In New Orleans, the cultural season lasts all year. What to attend? What to wear? It is time to prepare for the parties; time to brush up on your etiquette!
The word “etiquette” comes from Old French, meaning “prescribed rules, forms and practices established for behavior in polite society.” Sounds heavy? Not really – because everything old is new again.
Let us start with what to do when invitations arrive. Mark your calendar when you decide which ones to accept. Then – and this is very important – R.S.V.P.: Répondez s’il vous plaît. In plain English that means answer the invitations if you please … Now! But how? A hand-written note would be nice, but there are other, more modern ways of communication. First, check the invitation to see if a preferred manner is indicated; if so, respond as requested. If not, a phone call or a simple email will suffice. But please, answer quickly, as it helps the host to know in advance the number of guests who’ll be in attendance. It would surprise you to know how many people are guilty of not responding at all. You definitely don’t want to be one of those people who get the dreaded phone call the day before the soirée, “Hi there, Susan! Are you coming to the Smith party tomorrow night?” Oh my, what a faux pas.
What to wear to the party? “Dress casual” appearing in the lower right corner of the invitation always gives a guest a confusing signal at best. It is up to the host to spell out what he means when he uses that ambiguous directive. It is up to you, however, to call the host if you don’t understand the dress code. But whatever you do, don’t equate “dress casual” with sloppy clothes or come in any “old thing.” (See the sidebar for more information on dress codes.)
For a wedding or a large, more formal gathering, the rules are pretty standard. If the celebration is before six o’clock, a dark suit for a man and a dressy ensemble for a lady would be acceptable. After seven o’clock the dress is black-tie for a man and a more formal dress for a lady. Most importantly, always dress with confidence!
Speaking of confidence, have you ever noticed that men aren’t as confident in these choices of what to wear as women are? They are a bit more anxious about their apparel. An hour or so before the party, men begin to phone one another asking what exactly to wear. Of course they all know that summertime demands a white linen suit or seersucker. They also know that a gentleman never leaves the house without a white handkerchief in his breast pocket.
Party invitations may well specify a party – say at Halloween or Mardi Gras. Some guests may feel self-conscious wearing a costume. Try to overcome that feeling and join in the fun with the other guests, and don’t be afraid to show off a little. You will have a much better time and so will the other guests – because of you.
As for the cocktail party, it’s the crowd favorite. Be sure to arrive on time. You don’t have to stay all night, but make your presence known early. Smile! Work the crowd! Make sure you introduce yourself to strangers. Give them your full name, not some obscure nickname or, heaven forbid, your confirmation name – keep that for another meeting.
What a good time you had at the party – relay this message to the host the week after the party in a quick thank you note. You didn’t even have to worry about what fork to use and never once felt the need to assuage your insecurity or awkwardness by whipping out your cell phone to check Facebook and text your friends to make plans for tomorrow. You know why? Because you brought your consideration of others and your manners to the party – those never go out of style.
Have fun this season – and all year long!
Men: tuxedo or dark blue suit
Ladies: cocktail dress; must embellish with heirloom jewelry or eye-catching earrings
Men: white tie and tails
Ladies: long dress or ball gown
Men: collared shirt, slacks (no shorts, please), loafers and forget the tie
Ladies: skinny jeans, a fabulous top and flats
Men: blazer, collared shirt, tie and red suspenders optional with alligator or turtle loafers (a must)
Ladies: designer jeans, a fabulous top, jewelry and heels
Men and ladies: wear what you wore to work that day
Almost always has to do with holidays – Halloween, Christmas, Mardi Gras. Don’t be afraid to wear something outlandish – men are more attractive to women if they’ve given some thought or concern to what they’re wearing. Better to err on the side of “dressing up your casual attire” rather than “dressing it down.” Make a statement.