I love vintage books on etiquette and entertaining. Here's the bible, if interested. The advice is sometimes hilarious: "What's a children's party without franks and weenies?" Sometimes offensive: "Let your husband do most of the talking, as head of household." But there's always something classic to learn, like how to properly set silverware. Or the fact that at dinner parties, my husband and I should sit at the head and foot of the table. I leaned that in a book, and saw it play out later at dinner parties.
Cocktail parties have changed quite a bit, and below are some of the fun takeaways:
Then: "Always leave out plenty of cigarettes in open containers!"
Now: Vaping on the patio, admiring vintage ashtrays as art pieces.
Then: "Always start with sherry, before serving other cocktails."
Now: Have a signature cocktail that speaks to the occasion. Give it a clever name and list the ingredients on a chalkboard. And since we're in the age of Instagram, make it look good. Endless inspiration can be found here.
Then: "Play exotic music, to give your party flair. Watch them do the mambo, or cha-cha!"
Now: It's a Spotify or iTunes playlist - a cultivated mixtape. If guests get into it, they're likely to show-and-tell: casting their own playlist from their smartphones.
Then: "Good lighting is key. Light tall taper candles and place into a sterling silver candelabra. Throw sheer red and pink scarves over the lamps."
Now: While reddish lighting does make skin appear flawless, modern hosts ditch the fire hazard for strung Edison lights. With candles, we opt for the sturdier pillar style, with attention-grabbing scents, like cardamom and lavender.
Then: "Nothing beats a great sherbert punch, with rum!"
Now: I'll never hate on a good sherbert punch, but as they've become passe, modern cocktail parties tend to favor mezcals, high-end collectors bourbon (with cooling cubes to preserve taste) and campy, fruit-laden tiki drinks.
Then: "Create fun party snacks for your guests, such as a tropical tuna mold, sardines on buttered rye or Melba toast rounds."
Now: The above isn't a joke - it's from my Good Housekeeping Party Book circa 1949. These days, charcuterie boards have given way to elaborate grazing tables, meant to spill into a bountiful display. Artisan cheeses and breads, thinly-sliced sausages, nuts and fruit are commonly used. It's complicated, but great fun to put together.
I'd say we've come a long way, but I'd love for a couple of old traditions to come back. Hosts used to have a professional dancer come and teach guests dance moves, like the Charleston or cha cha. How fun would it be to invite Bollywood dancers and a henna tattoo artist to a dinner party where I'm serving Indian food?
That being said, can we please make sherbert punch happen again?