Bring Back the Sophistication of Celebration
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Bring Back the Sophistication of Celebration

I’m not sure anybody really needs a reason to throw a party, but it never hurts to have something worth celebrating; weddings are particularly popular affairs for doing it up big.

party woman cover

But, to paraphrase Stan Lee, with a great party, comes great responsibility. I’m talking about manners, etiquette, the social protocols that go so very far in improving social interactions of every kind.

“With manners in general, most people think of them as what you shouldn’t do. A smaller group thinks ‘what you should do.’ But what if we all started thinking of them as ‘what you might also do?’ More like an extension of philanthropy than a semi-optional protocol.”
~ Henry Alford, Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?

So what might we also do to make all our social events that much more enjoyable? Well, to start, let’s bring back the past.


What to Wear Where

In 1938, when Miss Manners took it upon herself to address all things proper, apparel was considered a means of making a statement on the social, economic, and fashion levels. How a person dressed conveyed her respect for the honorees and fellow guests at a given event. Somewhere along the way people learned the where and when of appropriate dressing. Granted, some people had to teach themselves, but that is why Misses Manners and Post stepped in.

You may even be familiar with the dress code designations used then and now, but their meanings have changed enough over the decades to render them uninformative. That said, some of today’s wording with regard to appropriate costume is vaguely specific to the point of confusing. Summer cocktail? Indian fusion? These sound more like menu items than dress codes.

For those doing the inviting, please remember your invitees cannot see the grand plan inside your head. I do understand you may want your shindig to be less buttoned-up or more like a red carpet event. You may even desire a Cirque du Noir theme in all black and white. Just for giggles, though, let’s go back to printing the desired dress code on your invitation in simple (i.e., easy to look up on the internet) terms. You can later dedicate a page of your wedding website to a photo essay on your specific preferences and recommendations.

White Tie: Supremely formal “special evening dress” featuring tailcoats, white bowties, floor-grazing gowns, and long white gloves.

Black Tie: Also formal and also a call for evening dress, meaning: black jackets with matching trousers, black bow ties, and evening gowns.

Black Tie Optional: Just don’t. This is about as helpful as “dressy casual,” and is bound to lead to confusion.

Casual: This more forgiving dress code allows for suits. Ladies can select garden dress for daytime parties, and cocktail attire for events happening after 6:00 p.m.

For the invitees who are still unsure, pull out those eighth-grade English skills and use the context clues in the invitation. Look at the time and place stipulated on the invitation. Then, before you dress, think, “Is this really appropriate for this particular event at this particular place?”

Remember, a dress code is just another set of guidelines. You can easily dress like yourself while still respecting the sartorial wishes of your host. Sport a crisp pair of chucks with your pinstripes, rock some funky glasses, or play with fashions from a different era. Further, as long as formal wear is worn to a formal event, I see no reason why men can’t don a dress and ladies should avoid adopting gentlemanly fashions.

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Please Step Away from the Phone

Prior to 1986, the year mobile phones became available to the public, people did not attend social events with their entire contact list in tow. If a person RSVPed for a gathering, he showed up both physically and mentally.

Today’s cellular phones are great for taking high resolution photos and necessary for guests who have left their offspring with a sitter, but that’s where the cell use needs to stop. In other words, abandon the three T’s”: talking, texting, and tweeting.

Imagine how a bride must feel when she looks up from her vows to see a room full of people with their heads bent over their rapidly moving thumbs. Even if every guest was tweeting about the wedding (they’re not), no one was invited just to review the ceremony and reception; they were invited because somebody wanted them to be there. Smaller fetes, no matter the level of formality, are no different. It just looks as though you would rather be somewhere else.

“A lady can go to several parties in one evening, but she always fulfills commitments she’s made to friends.” ~ Derek Blasberg, Classy

If you’ve made a promise to show up, then show up. Leave the instagramming and 140-character play-by-play until after your very gracious “good night.”


Don’t Forget to Write

Remember when the internet was meant to create a global community, touted as a way to connect people worldwide? Perhaps we’ve simply moved past the honeymoon phase, but once we crossed the millennium, people become more connected to the internet and less connected to each other. For the most part, people are social beings; they crave personal interaction. E-mail is flat. It has no tone.

“The computer screen, while great for rendering so many things in HD, has something of the glassy-eyed dead fish when it comes to written communication.”
~ Henry Alford, Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?

Before You Hit that Send Button, Consider Stuffing an Envelope Instead.

In which I offer a few lovely instances worthy of a handwritten note.

The card that you should include with a gift: Say your best bud from prep school has proudly announced he’s found a partner who agreed to put up with him until the end of time. Do you really want to leave your heartfelt congratulations up to the little square, sans serif card Pottery Barn will send along with the gift you purchased? No one expects to receive a novel via post, so length is not the object here. Sincerity is. It will not take very long for you pick up that unused pad of personalized stationary Grandma sent you years ago and write a note to say how much you look forward to meeting the person who can stand to eat breakfast across the table from your friend’s oversized nose.

The honeymoon/post-graduation tour of (insert country here): If you are able to tear yourself away from the charms of your vacation, consider rubbing your world travels in the faces of those you love. Surely that is a compelling enough reason to scrawl a note to your mom while eating chocolate crepes in Paris. Even with a postcard, you aren’t limited to 140 characters, and postage — even foreign postage — is far cheaper than international texting fees. Imagine the possibilities!

After receiving an invitation, lodging, or a gift of any sort: Congratulations, you made it onto the guest list! It doesn’t matter if the party was the best you’ve ever attended or a complete bomb, because somebody deemed you worthy company. If you want to be invited to the next fete (which could end up being the party of a lifetime), you need to express your gratitude to the host. If you can’t find a single thing to compliment (the house, the flowers, the cheese ball), stick with a simple, “Thank you for having me.”

The same rules apply to overnight stays. A written thank you left on the guest bed or kitchen table is a touching gesture, especially if it includes a small gift.

Forget? No worries, people love to get anything in the mail that isn’t a bill or a solicitation.

“The worst indignity does not excuse you from writing a delirious letter thanking your hostess for a heavenly week-end.”
~ Alice-Leone Moats, as quoted in Kate Spade’s Manners

Whenever you receive a gift: If someone spent money specifically on you, tell them you are grateful. The format is pretty straightforward: salutation, thank you for (the actual gift), I wore it here/used it there/love the color; thank you again; close. If you don’t like the gift, at least thank the giver for thinking of you.


Food for Thought

Truthfully, there isn’t really a wrong way to celebrate. When it comes to what you might also do to improve the festivities, three words will up the charm of every occasion: respect, sincerity, and gratitude.

That’s some good food for thought. Remember to chew it with your mouth closed.


Photo Credits: JadeGordon, Entertainment Weekly, Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for IMG, Rifle Paper Co., Kate Spade New York

Bring Back the Sophistication of Celebration

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