Hi, I am Adele. I've been running a large fancy dress shop in Essex, England, since 1998. I'm happy to pass on my knowledge to help others.
Ideas for a Pub-Themed Costume Party
The pub is an essential part of the British way of life. It is not unique to Britain – every country has its own types of drinking places and 'watering holes'. However, apart from true 'native' establishments, there are many replicas and lookalikes of the British pub around the world, provided for the benefit of tourists and ex-patriots who want a little piece of 'home'.
This costume theme does take a bit of 'thinking outside of the box'. It may be wise to make sure that your guests are 'up for it' before choosing this costume party theme. Like all other themed parties, it'll only really work if you get as many of your guests to participate as possible. If they think your theme is too difficult, you may get some no-shows!
In tribute to this British institution, I have put together this article on how to create your own pub-themed costume party. All you need now is a venue (such as one with a bar) to hold it in!
Pub Name Costume Ideas
Possibly the most unique element of a pub that separates it from a mere bar establishment is its name. This is displayed in both words and usually in a pictorial form on a hanging signboard close to the building. Traditionally, The Chequers was one of the earliest of pub signs, as a chequered board was an easily recognised graphic for those who could not read. Nowadays, The Crown and The Red Lion are amongst the most popular names chosen for pubs, but often the name may relate to some local landmark, event or even personage.
Depicting pub names by way of costumes can be an interesting challenge, and often you may be working with props, visual clues and wordplay. If you are not keen on puns, this theme might cause you problems. Below we have given you about twenty examples of costumes depicting pub names, and because the pub is looked upon by some as a male preserve, we have slanted the suggestions in favour of females (who can usually prove more adventurous/ingenious anyway)!
- The Queen Victoria: It is common for pubs to be named after royalty (we will see other examples below), and because Victoria was one of Britain's longest serving monarchs, and Victoria costumes are available, this is an easy suggestion. P.S. Pub names are often shortened. Thus, one of Britain's most famous (but fictional) pubs in the BBC TV soap Eastenders, is The Queen Vic or just The Vic.
- The Bell(e): Bell costumes are rather difficult to come by, so this play on words could feature Belle from Beauty and the Beast.
- The Grapes: A classic simple costume involving a black base outfit with purple (or green) balloons attached to it. Just do not go near any sharp objects or try to sit down.
- The Prince of Wales: Aside from depicting a Prince of Wales with a suitable mask and/or period costume (if an historical portrayal), this can also be a pun costume. A black outfit with photos of Wales (or Whales) pinned to it – The Prints of Wales/Whales!
- The George: Although Britain has had a few King Georges (and, of course, the recent addition to the family of William and Kate – the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge), The George can refer to Saint George. Knight costumes with the George Cross tabard are commonly available. If you have a slightly larger budget, a George and the Dragon ‘ride-on’ outfit might be of interest. Alternatively, if you have a willing accomplice, they could work as an independent dragon – either the animal or the ‘battleaxe’-style woman.
- The Chequers: In theory, any outfit with a check design or material will do, but there are some very striking jumpsuits, morphsuits and unitards in diamond/lozenge patterns which could also work.
- The Duke Without a Head: Any pub with this sort of name can potentially be portrayed using one of those ‘headless horror’ Halloween costumes (although they are not always practical for parties if the wearer is ‘enclosed’). Variations are also possible – a pub in York, The Silent Woman, is portrayed with a woman carrying her head!
- The Beehive: A beehive wig plus queen bee outfit?
- The Nags Head: A nag is another name for a horse, so a horse-head mask would do, but as it also means a constantly complaining or critical person, the ‘battleaxe-style' woman idea above could also work!
- The Angel: White dress or robe, plus a pair of wings (not too large unless you know you have space – not something often found in many pubs) and a halo. No problem!
- The Fox: Given that a ‘fox’ is a well-dressed lady, this should be a doddle for some girls, although a foxtail may add a clue to the portrayal. For males, use a suit and a George Clooney (or similar) mask, and you have a Silver Fox. (George was also the voice of the fox in The Fantastic Mr Fox) There are also fox animal costumes available.
- The Swan: The film Black Swan points us in the direction of a ballet outfit of some sort here, although some may prefer the white tutu look. Alternatively, you might be lucky(?) enough to find an outfit based on Bjork's infamous white swan Oscar outfit!
- The Star: Any celebrity outfit would work, provided their identity is obvious through the mask or outfit. If in doubt, wear a nappy or baby-grow outfit, plus dark glasses and go as The Rising Star.
- The Green Man: The easiest way to do this is an off-the-peg Hulk costume, but if you want to take a more traditional view, a green outfit with green skin can be striking.
- The Kings Arms: Many pubs are named the Something**** Arms, sometimes referring to the heraldic device/shield of that title or profession, other times just depicting the craftsman at work. For the King's Arms, a jacket with several velvet-clad false arms sewn onto it could be used (a coat of arms!) along with a cloak and a crown.
- The Pig and Whistle: Okay, you could just use a pig mask and referee whistle for this, but if you want to be really cryptic, try wearing a smart suit and your pig mask. Why? Because, in the Cockney rhyming slang of London, a Whistle and Flute is a suit.
- The Red Queen: The name does not necessarily refer to either the chess piece or the Alice Through the Looking Glass character, but thanks to the popularity of the 2010 Alice in Wonderland film, this sign is relatively easy to do.
Pub Game Ideas and Costumes
Aside from whatever drinking may go on at a pub (which is its primary purpose), there are often games and other entertainments on offer, some ‘traditional’, others more recent.
No pub-themed party is complete without a game of darts. Both dart board and dart (also known as an ‘arrow’ in British pub slang) costumes exist.
Although some pubs have small bowling alleys (and both skittle and bowling ball costumes are available on the market), an alternate game using smaller skittles – Nine-Men’s-Morris – is also played.
Although ‘traditional’ gambling machines (‘one-armed bandits’) can be found in pubs, others which test trivia knowledge are also popular. Gaming machine costumes available tend to be more the kind found in a fairground, but don’t let that stop some ingenuity.
Aside from the games aspect, the entertainment might involve either dressing as a visiting entertainer, such as a stand-up comedian, a travelling musician or the ever-popular Morris Dancers. These latter wear ribbons and bells, come in groups known as ‘sides’, and their dances are said to be originally derived from ‘Moorish’ dances brought back from the Crusades in the Holy Land in early English history.
You can run any of the following entertainments as part of the party:
- A karaoke segment
- A quiz night session
- A Britain’s Got Talent/X-Factor-type event
Pub Food and Drink Ideas
To complete your pub-themed party, you’ll need the perfect pub food and drinks.
Standard items of party food such as crisps and nuts are usually available at pubs to buy but are sometimes offered as complementary bar snacks (the salty snacks improve your thirst!). Other snacks, such as pickled onions, pickled eggs and small cubes of cheese, may also be offered.
In addition, there are some more interesting pub snacks available such as pork scratchings (pork rind fried and flavour coated) and bread and dripping (bread spread with the dripping from beef joints cooked in the pub’s kitchen when making meals).
Whilst cocktails and spirits are available in most pubs, British pubs are mostly about the beer. (Lager and cider are also popular, but bear with me.)
Some beers, such as Guinness, the Irish stout, are known internationally, but there are a good number of large British breweries and an increasing number of smaller, local micro-breweries – some pubs have their own – with a wide range of beer products on both ‘draught’ (out of a beer tap), ‘bottle’ (Guess!) and somewhere in between – mini-barrels such as firkins containing a good few pints. The problem is that each of these breweries (like others around the world) produces beers with weird and wild names, and some of you might want to take your costume inspiration from these.
Additional information on the eccentricities of the British pub can, of course, be found on the internet, but hopefully, the above gives you food for thought on a novel theme.