The most fun events have the most stunning outfitsRuby Cline with permission for Varsity

Cambridge loves convenience, and students tend towards very easy, low-maintenance events in the hope that this will encourage people to actually bother turning up. However, this makes them forgettable and uninteresting. I’m an event-hosting veteran (by which I mean many people have thrown up in my garden), and in this process I have learnt the value of one particular element that Cambridge events often don’t bother with: a theme!

“It’s the worst feeling when you host and know that people won’t bother dressing to impress”

The hectic nature of daily life can make it difficult to build anticipation for an event. Between work, studies, travels, and social lives, there’s no reason your evening in particular should stand out. So you have to make sure it does! A theme is a great way to give people a reason to think about and discuss what they’ll be wearing. As the host, you can get excited too. There’s no pleasure greater than making a themed playlist for an event. Take a listen to the “flower power” playlist and tell me that you’re not suddenly feeling ready to put on some flower print and go-go boots. My friends certainly were!

As the night fell, the "Summer of '69" beganRuby Cline with permission for Varsity

A theme can expand beyond attendees’ outfits. I hosted an arts and crafts night the evening before the 20s party to enlist decoration help. All it took was pulling out old boxes of Art A-level materials and playing some jazz. It was a much more chilled evening than the one after and it gave me an opportunity to chat to people about what they were wearing and the vision I had for the event. It turns out that my friends are quite artistically talented.

They were initially reluctant but my friends got into the artistic zone quicklyRuby Cline with permission for Varsity

Themes can also provide structures to the evening, which can make it more interesting than just standing and drinking. My “flower power” party had the day-drinking festival aesthetic complete with picnic blankets rather than chairs. For my friend’s “eight going on eighteen” party we played Year-5-esque games and hosted a sports day in the park.

Finley (centre) even made his own Year Six leavers' shirtRuby Cline with permission for Varsity

Lots of people get ready together before a party or event, and introducing a theme can add an element of community to that. Some themes and costumes require people learning a new makeup skill or trying out a different look which can lead to some funny stories and even new looks.

Some touch-ups are needed throughout the eventRuby Cline with permission for Varsity

Call me shallow but I love a good party photo. Capturing my friends together having a great time becomes harder and harder as we get older and life gets more complicated. This summer I had exactly one evening to get everyone together and of course that’s what I did. A theme does more than just bring people together in expectation and discussion, it also creates a visual narrative for your party photos. I’m a very forgetful person so themes make evenings stand out from one another, both in my memory and in the unique photos you can get from those evenings.

My friends don't seem convinced of my new flat cap lookRuby Cline with permission for Varsity

But you can’t just run with any theme and expect it to work. Through trial and tribulation, I have figured out how to come up with themes that get people excited and make them actually want to dress up. It’s the worst feeling when you host and know that people won’t bother dressing to impress – which you can avoid by choosing your theme right.

Make it achievable

My most successful themes have been those which people can follow through things they have in the house. As well as being way more convenient to everyone involved, it also means that people who forget that there’s a theme at all can come up with something right before they leave and still be on theme. I was once hosting my friend’s birthday party and forgot she had a theme until four minutes before she was arriving! Luckily, her theme was super achievable (dressing based on the first letter of your name) and I was able to grab a sheet and quickly transform into a Roman.

The day I learnt to always keep a ring of thorns handyRuby Cline with permission for Varsity

Ask yourself if you could complete the theme without buying anything new or spending a day painstakingly sewing or crafting. The best themes are sustainable – try not to ask people to buy anything new. You’re basically asking them to buy clothing for a single evening, and half of them almost definitely won’t do it.

Make it understandable

I was on the cusp of hosting my own Met gala in December 2021 before COVID took my idea down. I’m thankful it did to be honest, because I have never before sent so many texts explaining what a gala is, and for that matter what the Met is. I had a friend of mine ask what exactly I meant by “American fashion”, to which I had to respond “fashion that’s American”.

My most successful party to date was at the end of Year Thirteen summer: "Dress as your degree"Ruby Cline with permission for Varsity

Since then I’ve focused on themes that people either understand intuitively or can be explained in a single sentence. Decades work well for this and so do clearly instructive sentences, such as “dress as [THIS]”.


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I like to theme based on the reason for the party – my “roaring 20s” party was for my twentieth birthday; I hosted a sixth form leavers’ party themed “dress as your degree”. It adds a touch of on-the-nose fun to the whole affair.

You have to commit!!

If you’re hosting, you must be one of the most overdressed. You have to set the precedent by going all out. Nobody should be scared of going too hard with their outfit, because they know that you’ll be dressed bigger and better.

The second time that Mon (right) has been pictured in this article in themed dungareesRuby Cline with permission for Varsity

So that’s how to throw the best themed event possible. Events officers, I’m looking at you!