Ideas for Hosting
a Great Depression Theme Party

The Great Depression was a time of extreme financial hardship for many people. Those living in very rural areas whom relied on farming for a living were hit especially hard as well as those involved in the mining and logging industries. People living in the dust bowl areas were forced to walk away from their homes, young people took to riding the rails and long lines at soup kitchens became a familiar sight in the larger cities.

Even with all of the economic hardships of that decade, one thing that did remain affordable for most was food. Although people didn't continue to dine on the finer cuts of meat and more expensive dishes as many grew accustomed to during the roaring 20's, they did continue to eat well during the Great Depression with food and sugar prices remaining low.

This theme party is not intended to celebrate the Great Depression but is intended to be interesting, even educational and to recognize some popular items we enjoy today that came about during that time period.

It will offer everyone a glimpse into the past and the daily lives of our grandparents or great-grandparents and give everyone a chance to appreciate the little things in life which brought a little bit of joy into the lives of so many during that decade.

Here are some ideas for planning your unique Great Depression theme party. It can be as elaborate as coming in traditional dress of that era to a pot-luck dinner with guests bringing a traditional food item from that time.

General Party Ideas

  • Ask guests to arrive in 1930's style attire. Look for clothing at vintage clothing stores, on eBay, and estate sales. There are many looks for the 1930's from an old pair of denim overalls and straw hat or a very worn simple cotton dress and no shoes to suits made during that time period.

    Men's suit jackets were most often double-breasted with square shoulders and long, broad lapels. These were worn with long, baggier suit pants in in charcoal, steel or speckled gray, slate, navy and midnight blue in stripe or herringbone patterns. The gangster suits also became popular during this time which had wider shoulders, narrower waists, wider pants legs and wider striped fabrics. This was paired with a colorful tie and fedora. The "Palm Beach" suit of the 30's which was made from linen, seersucker, gabardine and silk shantung which featured a Kent double or single-breasted jacket was a popular summer look for those who could afford it.

    Hats were almost always worn by men during this time whether it be a cap or felt hat usually in a dark color. Hair was shorter in the back but longer on top and commonly combed back and facial hair wasn't as popular during the 30's.

    Women of the 1930's wore dresses with longer hemlines, slimmer fit with a slight flare, to fuller gathered skirts and upper yoked skirts. Pleated bodices, puffy sleeves and large ruffled collars were also popular as well as lower necklines with squared shoulders. The dresses often had a very tailored look to them. The empire waisted gown with a tie back became popular during the 30's and bows and fabric flowers accents also became an important accessory.

    Two-toned shoes, shoes with rounded toes and wide thick heels, buckles, ankle straps and lace-up shoes were worn. Flats and pumps with a moderate heel were also popular.

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    Hats such as the pill box, brimmed hats and berets became popular and were worn at an angle.

    Popular hairstyles for women were still worn close to the head with the deep set, finger waves and later the waves loosened up.

    Great Depression Theme Party Ideas

  • Set the mood with period music. In the 1930s, big bands and swing music were popular. Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller were the most popular band-leaders of the time.

  • If you own or can borrow any Depression Glass or other vintage 1930's place settings, set that out even if you can only get a few pieces.

  • You can stage a "poor" area where you can display a small bushel basket of apples for guests to enjoy. During the Depression, many people carted apples into the cities and sold them instead of asking for handouts.

  • Set up a "soup kitchen" near the apples. Set out a basket of crusty breads or rolls (they needn't be the day-old bread that was served back then) as well as several large pots of soup. These can be cooked and served from large aluminum stock pots with long soup ladles.

  • Ask guests to bring a soup ingredient with them to the party. The soups served to the poor at the soup kitchens were made from donated items which were mostly vegetables but usually did include at least a little meat. You will be creating a "stone soup" of sorts with your guests which can be served from the "soup kitchen" area of your party.

    Period Menu Ideas

    Family Dinners: 1931

    The following menus are extracted from Aunt Sammy's Radio Recipes Revised, Bureau of Home Economics, U.S. Department of Agriculture [Government Printing Office: Washington] 1931

    Dinner menus for February:

    Scalloped oysters, five-minute cabbage, pickled beets, jellied fruit; Lima beans in tomato sauce with crisp bacon, mashed rutabaga turnip, lettuce with tart dressing, fruit, chocolate drop cookies, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, scalloped parsnips, turnip greens, pickled cherries, Washington pie...

    Dinner menus for April:

    Cheese soúffle, spring onions on toast, browned parsnips, olives and radishes, rhubarb Betty, pork chops, savory cooked lettuce, parley potatoes, chili sauce, jelly roll; fresh beef tongue, wilted dandelion greens, fried potato cakes, banana pudding...

    Dinner menus for July:

    Cold sliced meat, potato salad, rolls, peaches and cream, iced coffee, tea, or chocolate; fried or broiled chicken, new potatoes, peas, currant jelly, strawberry ice cream, vanilla wafers; broiled ground beef on toast, lima beans, fried tomatoes, Spanish cream...

    Dinner menus for October:

    Scalloped onions and peanuts, spinach, hot biscuits, ketchup, lemon pie; cold boiled ham, succotash, carrots, cold slaw, green tomato pie; cream of vegetable soup, oven-toasted bread, grated cheese and lettuce salad, apple sauce, hot gingerbread; roast chicken, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts or some other green vegetable, crabapple jelly, peanut-brittle ice cream, sand tarts..."

    Family Meals: 1935

    The following menus are extracted from Ida Bailey Allen's Cooking, Menus, Service, [Garden City: New York] 1935

    Breakfast (fall menus) (p. 20-21)

    Stewed prunes, corn flakes and milk, boiled eggs, toast and butter, coffee, milk.

    Oatmeal cooked with dates, top milk, bacon, muffins and butter, coffee, milk.

    Pears, cracked wheat, top milk, creamed codfish on toast, coffee, milk.

    Lunch (fall menus) (p. 20-21)

    Poached eggs with rice and cheese, Graham bread and butter, grape jelly, cocoa. Boston baked beans, steamed brown bread and butter, piccalilli, canned peaches, tea. Chicken or veal soup, dumplings, mince pie, tea.

    Lunch/School lunch box menus (p. 45-6)

    Peanut butter and entire-wheat bread sandwiches, scrambled-egg sandwiches, raising gingerbread, an apple, milk (hot-cold bottle). Creamed chicken, ham or veal and entire-wheat bread sandwiches, jelly and white bread sandwiches, a hard-cooked egg, sponge cake, lemonade.

    Lunch/Lunch box meals for the worker (p. 48)

    Sliced ham and currant jelly sandwiches, made with entire-wheat bread, egg salad sandwiches made with white bread, apple pie, cheese, hot coffee, an orange. Cold baked beans, Boston brown bread and butter sandwiches, spiced beef sandwiches with white bread, a raw tomato with salt and pepper, Portsmouth orange cake, an apple, hot tea.

    Dinner (fall menus) (p. 20-21)

    Vegetable bouillon, meat loaf, stewed tomatoes, baked potatoes, bread and butter, lettuce, celery and grape salad, gingerbread with whipped cream, black coffee. Chicken or Veal Fricassee, boiled rice, buttered beets, sweet pickles, bread and butter, hermits, sliced oranges, black coffee. Broiled halibut of mackerel, parsley sauce, spinach, spaghetti Italian, bread and butter, spice cake (left-over) served with custard sauce, black coffee.

    Family Meals: 1937

    A Week of Family Menus, America's Cook Book, compiled by the Home Institute of the New York Herald Tribune [Charles Scribner's Sons:New York] 1937 (p. 855)


    Breakfast-- Sliced oranges, prepared cereal, fluffy omelet, toast, marmalade, coffee, milk;

    Lunch-- Tomato loaf salad, cream cheese and chives sandwiches, peach cream dessert, tea, cocoa;

    Dinner-- Stuffed shoulder of lamb, browned potatoes, buttered beets, asparagus salad, frozen prune pudding, milk, coffee.


    Breakfast-- Applesauce, hominy with shredded dates, poached egg on English muffin, coffee, milk;

    Lunch-- Chopped lamb, green pepper and lemon sandwiches; creamed carrots and peas, sliced peaches, cookies, tea, milk;

    Dinner-- Creole beef with noodles, summer squash, perfection salad, lemon meringue bread pudding, coffee, milk.


    Breakfast-- Orange juice, flaked cereal, scrambled eggs, muffins, jam, coffee, milk;

    Lunch-- scalloped mixed vegetables (with cheese), fruit gelatin, fruit drop cookies, tea, milk;

    Dinner-- Baked salmon, parsley sauce, stuffed baked potatoes, spinach, orange and watercress salad, pineapple topped pudding, coffee, milk.

    Party Menus

    Club Party Menu

    Ice cream or punch, small cakes or sandwiches, coffee, butter balls, petite fours, maple meringue cookies.

    Chinese Supper

    Chicken soup with noodles, Chicken Chop Suey, Chinese rice, egg foo yung, tea rolls, preserved kumquats, tea.

    Cocktail Parties

    Beverages: Tomato juice cocktail, Dubonnet and sherry, ice cubes, charged water, ginger ale, bourbon, rye, and Scotch whiskey.

    Platter of hot appetizers: sardine snacks, rolled toast with mushrooms, rolled toast with asparagus, cheese puffs, deviled olives, chicken livers in bacon blankets, crab-meat or lobster, small canapés, sausage snacks or cocktail sausage in snack holder.

    Platter of cold appetizers: rainbow rye bread appetizer, canapés of smoked salmon, stuffed celery stalk with crab-meat, caviar sandwiches piped with cream cheese, rolled sandwiches, filled with mock pate de foié gras or any spread, dried beef snacks.

    Afternoon Tea or Coffee

    Shrimp aspic with Thousand Island Dressing, Sally Lunn, Himmel Trote or caramel tea rolls, poppyseed roll, coffee.

    Children's Supper Party

    Bouillon, croutons, chicken timbales or mousse, mashed potatoes with parsley, jellied oranges, bread and butter sandwiches or orange and nut bread or butterscotch toast, sunshine cake, vanilla ice cream, daisy cream candy.

    Children's Birthday Menus

    Creamed chicken, animal shaped sandwiches, milk or orangeade, birthday cake with candles, junket custard or chocolate rice, marshmallows or date and walnut bonbons.

    Washington's Birthday Luncheon

    Halves of oranges, with Maraschino cherries in center, chicken a la Maryland, with drum sticks, southern sweet potatoes, Virginia corn bread, cherry salad, Boston brown bread, chocolate log cake (cocoa roll), nuts, raisins, coffee, Washington punch.

    Saint Patrick's Day Party

    Halves of grapefruit with green Maraschino cherry in center, olives, celery and nuts, cream of spinach soup with shamrock shaped toast, pork chops with apples, onions and green peppers, O'Brien potatoes, clover leaf rolls, shamrock salad with Irish dressing (Vinaigrette), salted wafers, Erin Ice (Creme de Menthe ice) or blanc-mange, with a bit of "Ould Sod" (grated sweet chocolate), potato chocolate torte, mint wafers, tea."

    The Settlement Cook Book, Mrs. Simon Kander [Settlement Cook Book Co.:Milwaukee WI] 1936 (p. 608-616)

    Formal Dinners

    You will find dozens of elegant dinner menus from the 1930s online, courtesy of the Los Angles Public Library. Many of these menus were composed for black-tie type events. Search date 193* GOURMET FOODS??!

    The following menus were published in the Ladies' Home Journal, August 1932:

    Sunday Midday Dinner:

    Corn soup, Fricasseed Chicken with Brown Rice, Broiled Tomatoes, Avocado-and-Lettuce Salad, Blueberry Pudding, Cream or hard sauce, Iced Tea or Black Coffee.

    Monday Luncheon:

    Hot Toasted Ham-and-Cheese Sandwiches, Sliced Peaches and Cream, Cookies, Egg Lemonade or Milk.


    Iced cantaloupe, Kentucky Succotash Garnished with bacon, Hearts of Lettuce, French Dressing, Toasted Wafers, Creamy Rice Pudding Frappe, Tea, Coffee." (p. 32)

    Wednesday Dinner:

    Cocktail of Mixed Melon Balls, Minute Steaks, French Fried Potatoes, Sauteed Mushrooms, Buttered Summer squash, Vanilla Junket with Raspberries, Coffee or Iced Tea...

    Saturday Luncheon:

    Chilled Tomato Cocktails, Salmon Loaf, Molded Potato Salad, Hawaiian Coleslaw, Olives, Spiced Sekel Pears, Water-Cress-and-Lettuce Sandwiches, Buttered Nut Bread, French Peach Pie, Hot Coffee, Grape-Juice Lemonade, Milk. (p. 38)

    Party Activities

    Learn some popular dance steps from the 1930's such as the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug and the Balboa and teach your guests a few moves while listening to some popular dance tunes from the 30's such as:

  • I've Got Rhythm by George and Ira Gershwin

  • Cheek to Cheek by Irving Berlin

  • Night and Day by Cole Porter

  • Don't Be That Way by Benny Goodman

  • Moonlight Serenade by Glenn Miller

  • Symphony In Black? by Duke Ellington
  • Rent Popular Great Depression Era Movies Such As:

  • Hell's Angels
    (1930) with Jean Harlow in her first role in this Howard Hughes WWII movie.

  • Dance, Fools, Dance (1931) with Clark Gable & Joan Crawford.

  • A Bill Of Divorcement (1932) with Katharine Hepburn making her screen debut.

  • Baby Burlesks (1933) featuring Shirley Temple's screen debut.

  • Popeye the Sailor
  • (1933)- first appeared in the Betty Boop cartoon.

  • Woman Haters(1934) The first of the 3 Stooges films.

  • The Wise Little Hen(1934) - featured the first appearance of Donald Duck.

  • Captains Courageous(1937) and Boys Town (1938) - in which Spencer Tracy won consecutive Best Actor Oscars in the late 30s for his appearances.

  • The Wizard of Oz (1939)

  • Gone With The Wind (1939)

    Other Party Ideas

    There were many food items that were invented during the depression that are still popular today. It might be fun to set up a table for each year that you want to represent with the year printed on a card so that guests know when these items were first produced.

    Nationally-known American candy brands circa 1935:

    Tootsie pops

    Hershey Bars


    Milk Duds

    Baby Ruth

    Whitman samplers (box of candy)


    NECCOs (& conversation hearts)


    Milky Ways

    Heath bars


    SOURCE: The Century in Food: America's Fads and Favorites, Beverly Bundy & Candy: The Sweet History, Beth Kimmerle

    American food brands introduced in the 1930s:


    Birds Eye Frosted Foods

    Wonder Bread (sliced)

    Hostess Twinkies

    Mott's Apple Sauce

    Snickers candy bars (Mars, Inc.)

    French's Worcestershire Sauce

    Chock Full o'Nuts chain restaurants (New York City)

    Philadelphia Cheese Steak (Pat's)


    Beech-Nut Baby Foods

    Bisquick (General Mills)

    Ballard Biscuits (cardboard tube packed refrigerator dough)

    Wyler's Bouillon Cubes

    Hotel Bar Butter

    Tootsie Pops


    Frito Corn Chips

    Skippy Peanut Butter

    3 Musketeers (candy bar)

    Heath bar (candy bar)


    Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies

    Campbell's Chicken Noodle and Cream of Mushroom soups

    Kraft Miracle Whip

    Tree-Sweet canned orange juice

    E. & J. Gallo winery founded


    Pet Evaporated Milk

    Wild Cherry flavor Life Savers

    Royal Crown Cola

    Carvel (ice cream restaurants)

    Ritz Crackers (Nabisco)


    Adolph's Meat Tenderizer

    Kit Kat bar

    Five Flavors Life Savers

    ReaLemon Lemon Juice


    Goya brand foods

    Waring blender

    Betty Crocker (General Mills)

    Elsie the Cow (Borden)

    Spry (Unilever)

    Hungry Jack pancake mix (Pillsbury)

    Chunky Chocolate bar

    Mars Almond Bar

    Fifth Avenue (candy bar)

    Orangina (soft drink)

    Howard Johnson's restaurant chain


    Pepperidge Farm Bread

    Kix cereal (General Mills)

    Spam (Hormel)

    Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner

    Ragu Spaghetti Sauce

    Sky Bar (New England Confectionery Co.)

    Rolo (candy)

    Smarties (Rowntree candy)


    Lawry's Seasoned Salt

    Mott's Apple Juice

    Nescafe (instant coffee)


    Lay's Potato Chips

    Cream of Wheat (5 minute)

    Dairy Queen (ice cream stores)

    If Kids Are Being Invited:

    Kids during the Great Depression didn't have money for new toys but the boys would gather up used wooden orange and apple crates from the grocers and use them to make go-carts out of and they could stack several of them to make a lemonade stand. This would be cute to set up for the little kids and let them mix up lemonade and serve it from a pitcher.

    You can also browse through some of the children's menus above and serve some of those items to the kids to show them what kids ate back then.

    Some other ideas for the kids is to supply them with some traditional 1930's toys or games that came out or were popular at that time such as:

  • The 3-D view master which was the biggest toy of the decade.

  • Comic books became very popular in 1938, especially Superman and Superman related objects and the famous "x-ray glasses" found in the comic books ads.

  • Monopoly, Sorry, and Scrabble were all invented in the 1930s but Monopoly was the biggest hit.

  • Die cast metal toys were still very popular during the 1930's as well as yo-yo's.

  • Rubber band guns were very popular with boys and often made out of a piece of wood from the fruit boxes.

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