The Difference Between Theme and Style

Style and theme are often confused with one another. People will think they have a theme when what they have is a style, or they think they have a style when what they have is a theme. Or they think they have a theme or a style and what they really have is neither. So I’d like to spend a little time discussing the difference between theme and style.

Theme

A theme is a motif — a story, item, or color that will pervade the event. It will make your event seem unified and purposeful. An event can be winter wonderland-themed, Star Wars-themed, or even pink-themed. These are the things guests will notice. They’ll look at your decor and say, “That’s Star Wars,” or “That’s winter,” or “That’s pink.”

Sometimes people say they don’t want a theme, they only want a style. To that, my question is always, “So what’s going to be the element that makes your event cohesive?”

Often people associate theme with kitsch, but a theme doesn’t always have to be a story or an event. It doesn’t even have to be obvious. A season, a color scheme, or the lyrics of a favorite song could be a theme.

As long as it unites your design choices and makes everything look like it belongs together, that’s all that matters.

Style

Style is a bit different from theme. Style guides your design choices. While theme unifies the appearance of things, style dictates the actual things that will be there.

The style of a six-year old’s birthday party will be obviously different from the style of a fundraising gala (typically, unless you have a rather sophisticated six year old or a rather eclectic fundraiser).

While almost anything can be a theme, styles are consistent throughout design fields.

There are elegant, modern, vintage, rustic, elegant, and eclectic styles and more. You can find these in architecture, home decor, and fashion.

Most themes can be done in many styles. For example, a winter wonderland event could be modern, vintage, or rustic. Some themes demand one specific style — a Great Gatsby themed party can really only be Art Deco — but typically any style can be applied to a theme.

So what’s your theme? And what style are you using for it? Try putting together a few different combinations and see what you like. And if you end up planning a rustic Star Wars party, send me pictures!

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