Old And Sold Antiques Auction & Marketplace
Antiques Digest Browse Auctions Appraisal Home

Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

The Art of the Hostess

By Elsa Maxwell

[Party Planning And Entertaining]  [Analyzing Some Parties]  [The Art of the Hostess]  [The Perfect Hostess and Others]  [Men As Hosts]  [The Pleasure of Your Company]  [The Perfect Guest - and Others]  [These Can Kill a Party]  [The Art of Preparing Party]  [The Art of Good Eating] 

( Originally Published 1957 )

Anatomize the character of a successful hostess and the knife will lay bare the fact that she owes her position to one of three things: either she is liked, or she is feared, or she is important. I began in the first category and I hope I'm still there, although there are evidently some who think I now overlap into number three, if the incidence of attempted gate-crashing at my parties is any criterion. But being important, being feared, are scarcely winning attributes. If I thought people came to my parties only because they felt they "must" or because it was "the thing to do" I'd strike them off my guest list in a minute.

It is true that hostesses who enjoy their reputations because of their importance probably number more than all the others in the world. Naturally a woman who enjoys the undoubted advantages of money and position has it in her power to be a good hostess, whether she be mayor's wife or President's lady - but whether or not she succeeds is a matter of her own personality and how she exploits it. The acid test of all entertaining is the extent to which guests enjoy themselves. No matter how important a woman is, if she does not provide her guests with a good time she can abandon any claim to being a good hostess.

Position alone cannot make a good hostess. A likable personality can -and here we have an intangible. For such a personality cannot be categorized. She may be clever or stupid, pretty or plain, from any income bracket and any walk of life. Likableness is no respecter of pedigrees. Some women, and men too, seem born with an aptitude for inspiring affection that is as artless and effortless as breathing. They radiate a kind of natural magnetism that is wholly unanalyzable. Certainly it has little to do with wit or intelligence. How often you hear people say, "I know she's pretty silly, but I like her." I've said it myself and I do not normally hold much brief for lightweights, yet I know many woman so naturally endearing that none but the most captious cares that they cannot hold their own in a conversation on anything weightier than the new letter in Dior's alphabet. Not, I hasten to say, that innate likableness is the exclusive property of delightful idiots. But brains alone are no guarantee of success in the social field. If intellect were all that counted I'd have been looking for a new line of work long ago!

On the other side of the coin there are women whose intelligence only enhances their natural charm. Surely one of the most engaging women in the world today, irrespective of position, is Elizabeth of England. The Queen, I feel sure, would have possessed the same qualities of serene, unaffected sweetness and warmth mixed with wisdom that have made her loved the world over whatever her birthright. The same is true of the Queen Mother, whose calm courage in the face of the panic brought on by the Blitz set an example to millions of mothers and wives during the Battle of Britain. The Queen Mother has only to enter a room to make her charm felt. And, of course, the bright, beautiful, mechante Princess Margaret needs no build-up from me as a charmer.

There is no doubt that wherever Princess Margaret goes she scatters a special magic. I came to know her quite well when we took part together in a production of The Frog put on in London in the summer of 1954 by Judy Montagu to raise money for needy children. Princess Margaret was codirector. After the first rehearsal the cast was assembled and asked to sit in a circle on the floor to discuss rough spots in the performance. I tried dutifully to lower my bulk to the floor, but the Princess instantly sensed my distress and, smiling, offered me a chair next to hers. Maybe I'd have made it, but her consideration saved me from possible disaster. I have heard that when she gets angry she is rather frightening. This I do not believe. A princess with her sense of humor might feel anger, but she would never show it. Margaret loves gaiety, courts it, and has been undeservedly criticized for it, for with it all she works hard and conscientiously for her country and certainly deserves the few extra hours of relaxation afforded by her intimates. To my knowledge she seldom manages more than three hours of sleep a night, yet she is able to appear each day at whatever function the court calendar requires, fresh, radiant, bright of eye. Added to all this, she is talented. She plays the piano and sings beautifully-and, gentlemen, she can cook. Often after rehearsals we would creep back to Judy's tiny doll's house in Trevor Place (where two fat dogs take up as much space as the guests) and Princess Margaret would roll up her sleeves and scramble eggs. Very good eggs they were, too, for she loves to cook and has a true flair for it. Come to think of it, I doubt if this singular young woman could do an unbecoming thing if she tried. Even marry.

Another princess of the blood who is liked for herself is Queen Ena of Spain, and so is the Duchess of Kent. Position, environment, training do of course contribute to the easy charm of manner these royal ladies bring to their appearances in public, yet they present to the public eye only what is their natural manner in private.

Royalty has no prerogative on charm. Two American hostesses who have it in abundance are my lifelong friends, Millicent Hearst and Mrs. William Woodward, Sr. Both Millicent and Elsie have the inborn faculty of giving friendship freely and so, in return, receiving it.

Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones-born likable. If so your success as a hostess is assured, for you know when you entertain that your guests are at ease with you and therefore with themselves and therefore happy. But if you are one who finds easy friendship difficult- perhaps from shyness, perhaps from fear, perhaps from an unduly prejudiced mind - then you must do your level best to root out the trouble.

Entertaining is an important part of all our lives, and I say this from no personal bias. My television appearances have resulted in hundreds of letters pouring in to me from all over the country, and I have learned from them that, by and large, women understand very well the value of party-giving. A party is more than a few people getting together to eat and drink and gossip. In its way a party is a miniature forum. It is an occasion when ideas may be exchanged, quarrels patched, news disseminated, business discussed, politics argued, charities organized, crops prayed over, babies viewed, recipes exchanged, remedies appraised, marriages made - or sometimes broken! A party is, in short, a sample case of the art of living together and it devolves on the women of the world to keep it on view. No woman who wishes to be part of a community life can avoid having to entertain now and then. Therefore she should make it as painless for herself as possible. She must feel sure of herself, and she will only feel sure of herself if she is also sure of entertaining in an uncritical climate.

Easy enough to say - the shy woman argues - but how can I feel sure of myself, when the very thought of giving a party reduces me to a quivering mass?

Well, I can answer that best by saying that one of the shyest women I know is a woman who has not only overcome shyness - she has triumphed over it. That is Katharine Cornell. Out of the theater Kit has never been able to get the best of her shyness. I have been to her parties and I know that she feels about first-night guests exactly as she does about first-night audiences: sheer terror. But let her confident performances once on stage be a lesson in Spartanism to you who shrink from a few guests in the parlor. All it takes is a sense that your audience is with you. Not long ago in New York, for example, I was having lunch at the Pavillon when I glanced up to see Kit standing in the entrance. Only a night or two before I had watched her bring great beauty and authority to the brilliant though wordy and often difficult, lines of Christopher Fry's The Dark Is Light Enough. Now here she stood in Henri Soule's unalarming doorway looking poised, lovely - and absolutely scared to death. When she first glanced around the room and saw nothing but strangers, her timidity was as plain on her face as a pallor. Then she spied me. She came at once to sit with me and my friends, and the minute she found herself with people she knew and could relax with, her shyness disappeared.

Fear, too, can be overcome -if that is your particular millstone. Everyone is afraid of something. Afraid of doing the wrong thing. Of saying the wrong thing. Of being laughed at. I say everyone -but I'm afraid I must make one exception: I must plead myself guilty to never having experienced this particular foible. In me, self-confidence amounts to original sin. I am sure it is a mistake of nature, some sort of overlooked omission in my make-up, but the fact is that I have never had any doubts about myself whatever, nor any shyness. Of course this assurance has been a great advantage to me as a hostess, for having no misgivings about myself I have no misgivings about my parties. I automatically sell my parties to myself, and through myself to my guests.

But if I am the exception, a lifetime of experience has taught me the rule. By and large even the most successful people approach a new situation in a state of enervating doubt. What kind of impression will I make? they ask themselves. Am I suitably dressed? Will I be able to keep up my end of the conversation? Will they like me? Lack of confidence in one's own ability to cope is, in fact, so general a complaint that I cannot think why misery, which is said to love company, doesn't simply sit down with itself and enjoy the fellowship. In any case, you who suffer as hosts because of stunted self-confidence ought to derive some comfort from the knowledge that, nine times in ten, those seemingly all-of-a-piece people you meet and boggle at cultivating are every bit as scared of you as you are of them.

Failing all else, try devising a mental defense or two. One man I know of hit on an ingenious trick - a man, incidentally, who looked the very model of composure. Not so.

"Whenever I feel myself in danger of being overawed by people," he said, "I simply undress them mentally. You've no idea what an edge it gives you to be the only fully dressed one in the room!"

Human nature being what it is, I can't say I recommend this particular gambit as general practice, but the thinking is sound. It is simply the psychology of ridicule fancifully applied. Everyone, after all, feels superior to what he can laugh at.

Less easy to overcome than shyness or fear is prejudice, and that is as it should be. Have your prejudices, by all means: it would be a sorry comment on the species if we were not all able to exercise our individual powers of discrimination. Our likes and dislikes are, after all, what peg us as individuals. We do not all like olives or baseball or tatting or the color red, nor do we all like people for the same reasons. What is caviar to me may be cyanide to you, and vice versa. Friendships must be circumscribed by personal taste, just as are the clothes we wear and the food we eat.

The trouble is that while most of us are willing to experiment from time to time with new styles in dress and food, we tend to shrink from experimenting with new styles in people. "She and I have so much in common," we say of someone we like, and settle contentedly into the protective shelter of shared tastes. This is natural enough. Common interests are a bond, of course, and if your subject happens to be collecting old fans or the conservation of the whooping crane you are naturally going to be drawn to a fellow fan collector or whooping crane enthusiast. But it is a mistake to seek friendship only within the limits of common interest. "So-and-so is awfully nice, but so dull," you say of someone else, meaning usually that So-and-so's interests differ from yours and that it has probably never occurred to you to give the poor dullard a chance to show his own colors.

Parties are people, and the greater the variety of people, the better the party. For this reason the clever hostess will widen her sights to cover many fields. When you meet new people don't allow trivialities to get in the way of discernment. Perhaps you don't like women who paint their fingernails green or men who part their hair in the middle. That is your privilege. But try not to glue the blinders on too tightly. Minor idiosyncrasies do not necessarily herald major faults. Take the trouble to investigate before you judge a new acquaintance. Your first impression may have been right, or it may not. Learn to evaluate people for what they are, not what they seem at first glance, or what So-and-so has told you about them. Your best friend isn't necessarily your wisest counselor when it comes to appraising character. Set your own standards of what you like and admire in others and have the courage, once you've decided a friendship is worth making, to be loyal to it. "I can't think what you see in So-and-so," from a carping friend, should find you with all gunsloaded.

Just as tastes in people differ, so do tastes in parties. So, for that matter, do talents in hostesses, and the first thing the good hostess learns is where her particular party-giving talent lies. Some women are good at one form of entertaining and poor at others. One woman may give perfect dinner parties, but fail when it comes to a private dance. Another may excel at a dance or a fork supper but lose her touch in the more intimate atmosphere of a luncheon or dinner. Few hostesses are good at all forms of entertaining. I think that I, for example, should fail miserably as a week-end host. In line with the old proverb that house guests are like fish, smelling after three days, I'm afraid I'd be sick of the sight of my guests by Monday morning. Actually, this is not a theory I've been able to put to test - for, never having had a home of my own, week-ending is one form of entertaining I have experienced only as a guest.

The only sure way to discover your particular metier as a hostess is by trial and error. Obviously, there will be occupational considerations: the career woman, or the woman who is her own cook, bottle washer, and family sergeant-at-arms can hardly be expected to feel her sparkling best at the end of a hard day. For her, the informal week-end party, such as a backyard barbecue where husband and guests can join in the cooking-or, failing a back yard, a simple buffet-is logically the most comfortable and laborsaving way to entertain.

Or why not a week-end luncheon? It seems to me too bad that these hectic times have all but relegated mixed luncheon parties to the status of anachronisms in this country. Speed cultists that we are, it has become virtually impossible for the average man to take time from his business day to relax at luncheon: the blue-plate special and be quick about it is by and large standard midday procedure for him. But there is no earthly reason why a luncheon should not be arranged for a Saturday or Sunday, when men could be included. There is, in fact, every reason to recommend it to the busy career-or-housewife hostess. In the first place, luncheon is an easier meal to prepare than dinner, because the food served at lunch is always simpler and less varied than at dinner. Then, too, guests do not linger after luncheon as they customarily do after dinner, thus gaining precious hours for the hostess. But quite apart from simplifying the hostess's task, a luncheon party has a personality all its own that is different and charming.

In New York these days, there is a group of hostesses who like to entertain at luncheon for precisely these reasons. They are busy women, concerned with economizing on time without sacrificing pleasure. Margaret Case, for one, a senior editor of Vogue, is a sturdy defender of luncheon parties: "They seem to offer an opportunity to create an especially relaxed, intimate atmosphere," she says, and she is right.

Margaret has lived a good deal in London, where the custom of lunching at home is still a pleasant survival, and where it is possible - as it is not in most American cities - to count on men to put in an appearance, weekday or no weekday. Of course London is a compact city, with residential areas close to the business districts and to Parliament and the embassies and Fleet Street, so that men needn't waste valuable time getting to and from these parties as they must in our big cities. But more than that the English - and, indeed, all Europeans - look on the midday break as precisely that: a break. And they treat it accordingly. They make it a time to relax, to refresh, to re-tool, as it were, for the working hours ahead. I am all for that. In fact, if anyone should ask me I should be delighted to launch a new Woman's Party for the Return to the Leisurely Lunch Hour in America. However, as this is not a platform apt to sweep the country with any great success, I will compromise by urging women to return to the graceful custom of company for lunch, calendar permitting.

Still another short-form method of entertaining which has died of neglect is the mixed afternoon tea. Gone With the Cocktail Party might be the epitaph on the grave of this gentle custom, and for this, too, I must blame men. Apparently it is no longer considered quite manly to be caught in public after five o'clock in the afternoon with anything less stimulating than a glass of 90 proof and soda. Just why the average man should feel he is putting his virility to question the minute he picks up a cup of tea is beyond me, but it is a fact that he does and that because he does tea parties per se have now passed irrevocably into the realm of women. This is too bad, for while most women enjoy the aura of elegance that hovers about a tea table they would enjoy it a great deal more if there could be men around to decorate the scene. But modern late-day entertaining has arbitrarily divided itself into two camps: the tea party without men, or the cocktail party with. Why not a compromise? Why not an afternoon party where the sexes meet halfway -tea for the women, a bar for the men? Of course the men might on occasion find their territory under invasion, but let them worry about that.

Not that I have anything against the all-female tea party, although that is a specialized form of entertaining and one not all women enjoy. Personally I'm all in favor of an occasional get-together with The Girls, although I can think of little drearier than a steady diet of afternoons surrounded by nothing but great gaggles of women. Still, an absence of men from a party has its merits now and then. Left to themselves, women will let down their hair, become less self-conscious and consequently more enjoyable. All the same I see no point in herding women together simply for the sake of a good gossip or to guess the price of each other's hats. If you would segregate the sex, let there be a better reason. A tea is fine if it does duty as the monthly committee meeting, or serves as a recruiting rally for a pet charity, or celebrates an engagement or an expected baby or some other vital statistic. Or if it merely provides solid diversion. Card teas are always fun; playing for prizes or money stakes, or just for the love of the game, puts teeth into what otherwise might be no more than a few tepid hours of talk and food, agreeable though both may be.

The food one traditionally serves at teas is, in fact, a point in their disfavor for the self-help hostess. Variety is always the keynote, and this practice is further complicated by the need most women seem to feel to compete for catering honors when they entertain at tea. Perhaps they feel that they are compensating for the absence of men by going all out to titillate the palate, or perhaps it is simply that there really isn't anything very exciting about a plain cup of tea and exciting food makes up for it. Whatever the reason, all this stress on abundance has an unfortunate tendency to spiral, so that the woman who gives a tea one week and serves a half-dozen different kinds of sandwiches is almost certain to find herself at a neighbor's tea the next week taking her choice of no less than a dozen.

Competitive entertaining in any area is not only nonsense; it is self-defeating. No hostess whose main concern when she gives a party is to make an enviable impression is going to be able to forget it for one minute, with the result that she becomes selfconscious and that, willy-nilly, her self-consciousness rubs off on her guests so that all guards go up and no one is happy. I may be sounding awfully like Elsa the Glad Girl with all this insistence that the only good hostess is the hostess capable of placing guest before self, but you can believe me it is true.

But whether or not she is vying for honors, custom obliges the woman who entertains at tea to offer such a variegated board that, what with the kitchen labor involved and the paraphernalia entailed in pouring and serving, the average self-help hostess will be given urgently to think before she undertakes a tea of any size.

A mixed afternoon party, where both tea and cocktails are served, seems to me a civilized compromise. Food at such a party needn't be nearly so elaborate. For one thing women long to keep alive in men's minds the fiction that they are ethereal creatures, capable of subsisting on little more than air; they'd sooner be caught dead than have men see them foraging up and down Everests of calories. And men want food that accompanies cocktails to be plain, absorbent, and identifiable. So at this kind of party the hostess can forget variety and concentrate on quality: simple food and plenty of it.

Little though I may like it, I am aware that the cocktail party, unalloyed, is with us to stay. I should have to be totally deaf to be ignorant of the fact that we live in a cocktail culture, whose unlovely symbol is the ring on the best mahogany, for this is forever being pointed out to me by sociologically minded friends who, no doubt, believe my antipathy to cocktail parties stems from personal bias. Not at all.

It is true that, except for an occasional glass of wine or beer, I do not drink. But the reason I do not drink has nothing to do with disapproval of those who do. I do not drink simply because I have never needed to drink. I was born feeling gay, so why bother?

By all means let those who need the stimulation of cocktails take them, so long as they don't take too many-which is too often the case. To drink enough and no more is admirable, but to drink too much abominable. People are not gay when drunk, they have no imagination when drunk, they have no conversation when drunk. In short, they bore - and therein lies my grievance against cocktail parties. Or, rather, what cocktails parties have become.

Whoever coined the phrase "cocktail hour" should have lived longer. The term may still apply to the warm-up period before dinner in many households, but it bears about the same relation to the three- and four-hour drinking skirmishes now in style as an air rifle to the atomic bomb. "Come for cocktails," say the invitations, "six to eight." And the marathon is on. But not at six. People seem to have a morbid dread of arriving on time for a cocktail party. Perhaps they feel a certain constraint about being first at the bar. Or perhaps they are wiser than I give them credit for, and are simply forestalling the evil hour. In any case, no one is ever on time, either to arrive or to leave. Eight o'clock comes and goes unnoticed by all but the poor hostess, while the diehards carry on (I am talking here about the dedicated or elite-guard cocktail-party type, and they are legion), trusting to the small, gelid arrangements of old anchovies and cheese on damp bread which turn up from time to time to cushion the alcoholic assault on their insides. This, in the name of pleasure!

Perhaps we are, after all, a race of masochists. I can think of no other logical explanation for the persistence with which people go on giving cocktail parties, and the apparent joy people take in going to them. Personally, unless I am very sure of my hostess and therefore of the people I will meet in her house - or, of course, unless the occasion is one of professional demand - I do my best to avoid them. For I have come to the hardearned conclusion that in nine cases out of ten the people who are invited to cocktail parties are the people your host has not thought worth inviting either to luncheon or to dinner - so why, I ask, should I bother with them?

The cocktail party host may or may not be knocking names off a list of people he "owes" in the least troublesome way he can, but the chances are good that he is troubling a fellow host. Ah, the dinners that have spoiled, the promising introductions botched, because some poor wretch at a cocktail party hasn't had the sense to say no to that fifth Martini! It is all very well to say of your guests, "They're great big grown-up people. If they don't know when to stop, whose fault is it?" Certainly no one should drink who doesn't know his capacity, but even a seasoned drinker makes mistakes and the commonest cause of his mistakes is that nothing is done at the average cocktail party to remind him that it is time to stop. This is a predinner party, he tells himself, blandly ignoring his watch, and as long as this pre-dinner party goes on, whether it be until eight, nine, or ten o'clock, he feels he is observing the ground rules by staying with it. From cloudland, dinner looks a remote circumstance. So why not face him with it? To be sure, a cocktail party without food (I mean real food) is a relatively easy party to give, but somebody must take all those anchovies out of the cans and slice the cheese and butter the bread. Why not go a step further, and have ready a few simple supper dishes? No need to put yourself out on a limb by calling it dinner. Tell your guests simply that there will be cocktails and a simple buffet and let it be exactly that. But do in pity's name provide the poor creatures with something solid to eat. Alcoholism, we are told by compilers of ominous figures, is rapidly on the increase in America. Surely part of the blame must rest with the degeneration of what started out as reasonably civilized gatherings into drinking bouts, pure and simple.

All this by way of inveighing against. Now I must straddle the fence by conceding that there are sometimes valid reasons for cocktail parties. Politicians, business and professional people can't sensibly do more: when a congressman wants to be put on record by the press, when a cosmetics firm wants to introduce a new lipstick, when Marilyn Monroe wants to announce herself incorporated to the greater glory of Dostoevski, a cocktail party is the obvious means - the cheapest, shortest, and least arduous way of shaking hands with the greatest number of people in the shortest possible time.

These parties serve a definite purpose, and so, I believe, should the purely social cocktail party, if such there must be. It is beyond my powers of belief that the average woman could enjoy a mob milling about the premises solely for the purpose of receiving free drinks. As with a tea, if you must have a cocktail party let there be a reason. An out-of-town guest to be introduced, a prospective son-in-law put on display, or merely a new piece of furniture to be shown off - whatever it is, have a reason.

Then, too, make it a small party. Size is a virtue at a business cocktail party, but it is killing in the home. Assume, for instance, that you have planned a cocktail party to introduce a new personality to your friends. You invite, say, fifty guests. Each of the fifty is asked presumably because you believe he or she will enjoy meeting and talking to the guest of honor, and vice versa. But what chance, pray, has anyone to talk anything but idiocies when he is in competition with forty-nine others? Rather give five small parties of ten guests each, where decent conversation is possible and where your guest of honor will not be overwhelmed by numbers, and will have a chance to note and remember individual names and faces. This is simple kindness. Cocktail parties are stupefying enough without resort to mass anesthesia.

Dinner parties are, of course, the backbone of all entertaining. Considering that this is so, it is astonishing how many hostesses turn them into unqualified disasters. Food badly prepared and badly served is the surest way to guarantee an evening that flops, and later on I am going to discuss food and what to do about it at greater length.

But food alone does not make or break a dinner party. That is in the hands of the hostess and the atmosphere she creates for her guests. She is the pace setter. If she is relaxed and confident of pleasing, she will succeed. If she is tense and ill at ease, she will fail. Here is where suiting your party to your manner of living is important.

What if you can't singlehandedly manage a sit-down dinner for eight? Nowadays, with so many women doing without help, informality is accepted and even welcomed. What's wrong with a big bubbly pot of beans on the buffet (always provided they are good beans, of course), a salad, a loaf, and everybody to help himself - if that is the kind of party you are best equipped to give? Never entertain in a way that puts a strain on you. Never try to give dinner parties that are too large or too complicated for you to handle easily. On the other hand, if the buffet supper is your preference, beware of growing too casual. Everyone, I am sure, has experienced the oversubscribed small-apartment party where some poor devil must either stand huddled in a corner, or crouch, bone-sore, on the floor to eat his dinner, all in the name of "casual" entertaining. I'm all for casualness if it is also comfortable and pleasant, but don't let it run away with you.

By the same token, small seated dinners can turn into small seated nightmares if the hostess is unskilled in that form of entertaining. Choice of guests here is of the greatest importance, for if the hostess is unwise in those she brings together and is not herself conversationally deft she may find herself helpless in the hearing of talk that grows contrived and therefore deadly. Or again she may try to keep the mood so all-fired sedate that the guests are soon breathing glacial air.

To you who are young and just trying your wings at partygiving, I say look at yourself, look at your friends, look at your house, look at your budget, and design your parties to suit your needs and capacities. Don't be afraid to experiment. That is the only way you will learn what is best for you. And once you have learned (and I say this to old hands as well), don't be afraid to innovate. Stay within the framework that suits you, but don't formulize your parties to the point that your guests arrive wearily certain of what they are to eat, whom they will meet, and what they will talk about down to the last comma. Sameness is the dullest thing on earth. Give something new-if it is only a new face, a new game, a new way to glamorize macaroni.

My own preference in parties is not easy to choose, for I have yet to give a party of any kind that I didn't enjoy. But perhaps the parties that give me the greatest personal pleasure are the buffet suppers which I have given every Sunday night for the past four or five years during the fall and winter months when I am living in New York. These are the most informal parties imaginable. No one needs a special invitation. My friends know that they are wanted and welcome, and they come if they can -usually about twenty to thirty in all. My apartment at the Waldorf is too small to accommodate this number comfortably, so I take over one of the hotel's private suites. A buffet supper is set up to be served at nine o'clock, and all who come know they can count on a good game of cards - usually Canasta or bridge - good talk, and good food. Because the guest list fluctuates from week to week, and because the buffet is ample, varied, and unfailingly perfect, there is no stigma of sameness at these parties. The mood is gay and relaxed. Nobody dresses. Nobody cares. Least of all the hostess, who may have the best time of all!

To me this is the ideal way to give a party, and it is the kind that can easily be managed in anyone's home. Not every week, I hasten to say, but there is no reason why the same openhouse principle can't apply at whatever time you choose to entertain. Simply let your friends know that they will be welcome on such and such a date, from such and such a time on, set up a few card tables, put on your most comfortable clothes, and relax with your guests. As to food, make it a movable feast, with plenty of good, simple food on the back of the stove-enough for all, including any who may drop in unexpectedly. I guarantee you'll have a successful, fondly remembered party.

Always remember that your first duty as a hostess is to your guests, and that that duty begins at the door. Arriving guests must be made to feel instantly welcome, and this you can only accomplish by having your welcome ready. If the first ring of the bell finds you in the kitchen frantically throwing together the dessert sauce, or in the bedroom just wriggling into your dress, or for any other reason among the missing, you will have contributed a decided damper to the evening.