A formal birthday party is a great way to add a touch of class to the birthday boy or girl, particularly on a milestone birthday. Here are some formal birthday party ideas for an evening of charm, grace, and elegance.
Location, Location, Location
The most important element in hosting a formal birthday party is location. If you're going to rent a ballroom, try the most historic hotel in town. Many fine restaurants also have special rooms set aside for parties; this is one of the easiest routes, since you don't have to worry about food, but it can also be expensive. A less costly alternative is to host the party at someone's home. A formal garden party is always in style; rent card tables, rounders, and white tablecloths, and you're on your way.
Dress the Part
Make sure the invitation spells out that this is a formal party. Strictly speaking, a formal party requires "white-tie" attire, which means tuxedos for the men and evening gowns for the ladies. But in today's society, a formal party is more likely to feature "black-tie," or semi-formal, attire: dark suits for the men, cocktail dresses for the ladies, with "black" the operative word for both.
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!
If you're going to host a formal birthday party, be sure to carry the formal theme through to everything, including food, drink, and entertainment. You can't very well have guests show up in tuxedos in an elegant garden setting and point them to a keg while a thrash-metal band plays in the background! For food, consider a stylish sit-down dinner, complete with salad, entree, and red and white wine bottles on each table. If you want to limit the fare to appetizers, consider plates of gourmet cheeses, fruits and vegetables, smoked fish, beef and chicken skewers, and Swedish meatballs. You might even want to contact a local wine shop to arrange for a tasting. For entertainment, consider a deejay with Big Band music or a live jazz trio or even a solo musician, such as a saxophonist. There's nothing like a sax rendition of "Happy Birthday" at an elegant garden party just as the sun goes down.
The Birthday Spirit
Don't let the formality of the event get in the way of the fact that this is still a birthday party. Clusters of gold and silver balloons, around a more prominent balloon displaying the birthday boy's or girl's age, are a nice touch. If you can afford it, try an ice sculpture, again featuring the honoree's age. For a real milestone birthday you might want to create a photo collage of the honoree through the years. Be sure to leave a wide border on all sides; put the collage on an easel and ask guests to sign it. If you're technologically savvy you can create a photo slideshow on DVD and keep it running continuously on a TV screen.
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Thomas K. Arnold is publisher and editorial director of "Home Media Magazine" and a regular contributor to "Variety." He is a former editorial writer for U-T San Diego. He also has written for "San Diego Magazine," "USA Today" and the Copley News Service. Arnold attended San Diego State University.