The year was 1981.
Ronald Reagan was President.
MTV had just been born, and so had Justin Timberlake.
The cool kids were playing Frogger at the arcade while their parents critiqued the 25-foot train on Princess Diana’s wedding gown.
Raiders of the Lost Arc was a box office hit, and Harrison Ford was a heartthrob.
Sunscreen and seatbelts were still underrated.
And these two cuties were in kindergarten.
Now fast forward your VCR to 2016. (Let me give you a minute. Your VCR was slower than you probably remember.) A few things have changed since 1981. No one is pegging denim anymore, maybe because the jeans are too “skinny” these days. Dark wash is cooler than acid wash now, and we aren’t all choking on AquaNet fumes anymore.
And those two kindergarteners? Well, we’re turning 40, which is basically impossible, unless we fell into a time warp somewhere between our high school graduation in 1994 and today. Otherwise, I just can’t explain how this happened.
This is a big year for my husband and me; we both turn 40, which is some kind of milestone in American culture, I guess, and we will celebrate our 100th wedding anniversary in June. I say 100th anniversary because I like to measure marital bliss in “Hollywood years,” which means that every year of marriage is worth seven or eight, and also because on a bad day it sometimes feels like it’s actually been that long. (I can say this because we have mostly good days – and because I know there are days when he would agree!) In calendar years, though, we will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary this summer. But, again, with that time warp we hit somewhere in the 90’s, I’m not sure how long it has actually been. Maybe only four.
A few years ago, in a dreamy state disconnected from reality, I had hoped that we could do something really exciting to celebrate these occasions, like go on our first cruise or vacation in Mexico. But my husband is so kind that he encourages me, the brainiac who was supposed to be highly successful in something that pays well, to follow my passions, like devoting hours to writing a blog that pays in only personal growth and satisfaction. And since resorts in Mexico will not accept this as payment, I needed to find a less expensive way to celebrate his birthday. (Note to self: Maybe stop blogging about the 80s and start writing travel reviews instead . . . Cha ching!)
Seriously, though, I did want to make his 40th memorable while keeping affordable, too. I started tossing around ideas, plans for a big party with all of our hometown friends and family and all of our friends nearby, and, frankly, it started to feel a bit overwhelming and not so low cost anymore. I also realized that I was planning the party that I thought he should have, but not necessarily the party that my husband would actually want, so I decided to nix the element of surprise and just ask him. The answer was not shocking since we have been married for 100 years. He said, “Keep it small. Really small.”
And I said, “THANK GOD!” under my breath as I exited the room. Thank. You. Jesus. Because small is much, much, much, much easier to do.
But let’s be clear; small doesn’t have to mean boring, and 40 doesn’t have to mean decorations that say “Rest In Peace.” (Seriously? Who is comfortable with that?) And that takes us back to the 80s, because even though we were both born in 1976, that decade is a blur of diapers and formula for us. But the 80s, well, EVERYONE born in 1976 remembers “Livin’ on a Prayer,” right? Ferris Beuller’s Day Off? Knight Rider? Of course, they do!
Thus, our 80s party was born. The ideas that we used were super simple, and we suggest that you modify them to fit your needs and throw an 80s party yourself, just for fun!
First, we needed an 80s atmosphere with fun decorations and bright colors. As always, we were extremely busy, so I opted to buy some 80s décor from Party City rather than figure everything out on my own. The prices were reasonable, and a little went a long way. We also scoured the house and some boxes in the basement to find anything with an 80s vibe. Movies, music, toys, cassette and VHS tapes, vintage t-shirts, old pictures – anything from the time period will add to the fun!
If you are throwing a birthday party, don’t forget some pics of the guest of honor! The 80s clothes and hairstyles captured in those moments will provide plenty of entertainment for your guests, too.
You can also use some of the party supplies or favors to create focal points that become decorations themselves, like these glasses from Party City that we gave to the kids.
Or these white gloves from Walmart, purchased for less than 25 cents a pair at the end of the season. Michael Jackson was my FAVORITE back in the day, as proven by the creepy Michael Jackson doll my mom just found in the back of a closet. (If you are even thinking about having an 80s party, go buy these NOW on clearance! There is no legit 80s party without M.J.)
And then there was this bit of fun for the kids, and the kids at heart. Now, if you are a purist, these candies weren’t introduced in the 80s, but, really, who cares? I remember Pop Rocks as a special treat during my childhood, so these worked for us, and the kids loved the novelty of them. Also, Pop Rocks were discontinued at one point in the 80s, possibly as a result of crazy rumors that they would cause a kid’s stomach to explode. That is cool 80s trivia. Read more about it here!
What to do for a cake? My husband didn’t want a cake at all, but he asked for a big iced cookie instead. Perfect – the shape of Pac-Man! This dessert was made by my friend Laura at Sweet Treats by Laura, and it was so, SO good!
Now that the decorations and treats were prepared, entertaining everyone was the priority. Not a problem. First, we asked everyone to dress in 80s fashion, and that alone provided plenty of entertainment. I mean, when a friend comes dressed in the vintage New Kids in the Block memorabilia that she dug out of storage, you know you are going to have plenty to talk about!
The kids dressed up, too, which was especially entertaining. My son and one of his friends spent all afternoon making jerseys to look like Dell Curry and Muggsy Bogues from the Charlotte Hornets. They just needed fake mustaches and some shorty shorts to complete the 80s NBA look. Their costumes were, like, totally radical, ya know?
Our friends are generally happy to just sit around and chat, but an easy, fun alternative to entertain a small crowd is to play the game Catch Phrase Decades. This provided a lot of laughs as we tried to get our teammates to correctly guess names, titles, and products from the 80s. It was hilarious to see how much we did and didn’t remember from the past, and the game brought back many long-lost memories. (What did Mr. Mister sing again? Oh, yeah, THAT song! Right!)
Meanwhile, the kids were busy downstairs reliving our childhoods. They played Pac-Man, and they didn’t even find it boring thanks to Adam Sandler’s Pixels.
Great Scott! They watched Back to the Future.
And, my favorite, they had a ball with an 80s photo booth. This started with an inexpensive backdrop from Party City. Then, we stocked a basket with 80s fashions – crazy bright hats, fake mustaches, white gloves, net gloves, a net shirt, gold and neon bling, sunglasses, a microphone, and inflatable instruments, all from Party City and Walmart. The kids dressed up and took pictures all evening, and the photos are great keepsakes, too.
Our small party was a big success, and it is something that we will remember for a long time. After the party, we finished celebrating my husband’s birthday by giving him more than 40 cards from friends and family members who helped with this fantastic surprise. It included notes from kids he has coached, a card from one of his own basketball coaches from the 80s, and messages from so many people who have been so important to us during different phases of our lives. I am grateful to everyone who helped, and I still feel the need to apologize for sending group Facebook messages. Those are just terrible. Thanks for not unfriending me!
If there is one thing I know about 40, it is that our experiences now are less about the experiences themselves and more about appreciating the people who experience them with us. Our 80s party and the many birthday messages for my husband allowed us to reflect on all of those important relationships, past and present, for one totally tubular celebration. What will I do to celebrate my 40th? That’s still uncertain, but it doesn’t look like I will make it to Mexico. If I am with the people I love, though, that won’t matter much at all.