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The Pleasure of Your CompanyBy Elsa Maxwell
( Originally Published 1957 )
"Bring anyone you like," Laura Corrigan used to say to casual friends when she first began launching herself as a hostess in London. Needless to say the friends obliged, and the result was that Laura's parties - awash though they consequently were with the titles she coveted, and thus perfect in her eyes - could not properly be called parties at all. Webster defines a party, in the social sense of the word, as "a select company" - and so it is, or should be. But select was scarcely the word for Laura's indiscriminately gathered, often lively, often amusing, but just as often incoherent company: there were times when her drawing room suggested nothing so much as an ultra-elegant station waiting room, in which the only discernible bond between the waitees was that they were all ticketed aboard the same gravy train.
For guests, of course, this all-comers-welcome system of invitation has its points. Not knowing who you're going to be thrown with, you go to the party in the expectation of surprise, and it may, if you're lucky, turn out to be a pleasant one. If not, you can always plead that nasty old migraine coming on again and leave-which, in the case of the hostess who has been foolish enough, or amiable enough, or ignorant enough, to admit total strangers to her house with no other recommendation than they happen to be friends of friends, is no more than she deserves. It is all very well for a guest to take chances on his company for the evening. For a hostess it is pure folly. No really good hostess will take a chance on inflicting misfits on her friends. Laura, it is true -in spite of, or perhaps because of, her vacuum-cleaner method of pulling in guests -made quite a name for herself as a hostess; but it was not, as I have said, a particularly enviable one: she was laughed at almost as much as she was sponged on. Laura's popularity was, I'm afraid, a plain case of money gilding the pill.
But not all the money in the world, not even when it is backed by great and unshakable social position, can save a party that is open to just anybody from turning into a calamity, if not a complete rout. My rating of a guest is high. I see no reason in giving a party to people you do not know or, knowing, care not at all to know better. When I draw up a guest list for a party I am - I have learned to be - less a hostess than a dictator. I, and I alone, decide who is to be invited, and in deciding I consider only two qualifications. One is that I know and like the person. The other, that he or she have something to contribute to the success of the party. No one is ever asked to a party of mine because of his position, however exalted. (Contrary to popular opinion, I know. Critics of my column have complained that "Elsa Maxwell never writes about Mrs. Brown or Mrs. Smith-only titles." It is true that I know and like quite a number of titled people. All the world loves a title, no country more than ours, and that is why I write about them. If I didn't nobody would read my column. All the same, there are many Mrs. Browns and Mrs. Smiths in my life whom I like, and whom I would rather entertain than the most imposing of crowned heads, if the head under the crown was not to my liking.) And, certainly, no one, how- ever exalted, is ever admitted to a party of mine unless he or she has been expressly asked to be there. When, as sometimes happens, I am forced to deal with self-appointed candidates for my list-pesterers for invitations, would-be crashers and the like - the tyrant comes out in me full-fledged: Nero could not have turned thumbs down with less remorse.
I have never quite understood the mentality of the determined crasher: certainly the last place I would ever want to be is a party to which I hadn't been invited, and I cannot imagine how anyone with a modicum of pride could feel otherwise. Still, the breed exists - people who will resort to any device to be seen at a party they think they shouldn't miss, the object apparently being twofold: first, to be able to boast afterwards of having been there, and second, to take private revenge on the hostess who was weak-minded enough to tolerate the intrusion by going on to describe, with suitable embellishments, how ghastly it all was. Only once in my party-giving career have I let myself be pressed into admitting a crasher, and the result was every bit as tiresome as I'd feared. This was in Hollywood (come to think of it, perhaps that explains the lapse; perhaps I was slightly addled by the place). In any case, I was giving a party and I had heard through friends that a woman I knew only slightly-only well enough in fact to have registered three things about her: one, that she was extremely rich; two, that she looked like a bad Japanese print; and three, that I didn't much like her-that this woman, anyway, was determined to come to my party. I was equally determined that she should not. Imagine with what pleasure, then, I glanced down the line of arrivals on the night of the party and beheld none other than the bad print herself. I was standing, I remember, with Clifton Webb, his mother, Mabel, and Mrs. Darryl Zanuck, peaceable souls all, who, when they saw my hackles rise and heard me announce that the woman was not to be admitted, begged me not to embarrass her. It would be all right, they assured me. Besides, the party was large. She'd be swallowed up, go unnoticed, I'd see. Finally, reluctantly, I agreed to let her stay. I greeted her, I shook her hand, if not very cordially, and from then on I watched her. Little people always like to make a show of themselves, and this one was no exception. First, she spotted Clark Gable, plunked herself down in front of him, and set to work boring him. When he was finally able to escape she proceeded on, going from one guest to the next, boring all the way. The moment came when I could stand it no longer. There was a little bar off the main room, and when I saw it was empty I went in and beckoned to her, very sweetly, as if I had something charming and friendly to confide to her. In she tripped, and I let her have it.
"You," I said, "were not invited to this party, and you will have to go -quickly."
She looked astonished. "But what have I done?" "Everything wrong," I said, a remark she chose to take, for some reason, as a reflection on her ancestry.
"I'll have you know," she spluttered, "that my background is every bit as good as yours!" "Your background," I said, "may be infinitely better. I don't know and I don't care. I simply know that this is my party and that I am asking you to leave it."
Little as I liked the woman, I'll give her credit for one thing: she had skin a rhinoceros could envy. But she showed a certain humor when, the following day, she sent me three dozen roses, with a little note - thanking me for the party!
There have been no repeats of that disagreeable incident and there won't be. I enjoy the belief that, after all these years of standing my ground on the matter of crashers, my antipathy to the breed is generally known and respected. Every now and again, though, I am given a rude surprise. For example, on the night of my party for Cole the man at the door came to me early on to say that a titled Englishwoman, wife of a wellknown British diplomat, had asked to be admitted with two of her friends. (Position, I should mention, is not necessarily synonymous with good taste. I know of one member of the British royal family who went to a Park Lane millionaire's party, uninvited, "just for fun." She was taken by a friend and didn't know her host from Adam. No doubt the host in this instance was flattered by the lady's presence, but that does not offset the fact that it was a most unseemly and tasteless thing for her to do.) But back to my lady ... I sent out word that she could not come in, but the word proved insufficient. She persisted in badgering the man on the door until, after an uncomfortable hour of this, I took matters into my own hands and went out to her. The lady was indignant. She had, she said, called my apartment and been told it would be all right for her to come to the party.
"Then there has been a mistake," I told her. "It is not all right-it is all wrong. I'm sorry, but only my friends have been invited to this party, and you are not welcome."
"But what can I possibly say to my friends outside?" "That," I said, "is up to you. I can only say that I don't know them, and I don't want to know them. I am sorry, Lady , but that is the way it is."
And that is, indeed, the way it is. Even when a close friend rings up to ask if he may bring someone I do not know to my party I say No. Of course, if he should ask to bring Sir Winston and Lady Churchill, or someone of equal distinction, then objection would melt. I am human. But by and large, once I have designed a guest list to my satisfaction, it stands as written. Your guest list, after all, is your party, your blueprint for the ultimate grand design, and it is up to you to keep it under control. If you have done the job well you have - usually not without difficulty - worked out a plan that is in perfect balance. The minute you let friends or family persuade you to add to it here and there the balance will be gone; and nine times in ten, the success of your party with it.
Well, then, you are going to give a party, and you are going to start, of course, by deciding whom to invite. Consider, first, the capacity of your room. Never have more people than you can put comfortably into one room. Split your party into two rooms and you will at once sacrifice all intimacy.
The first names for the list will be easy enough. It is almost always the wish to see dear old So-and-so, or to bring people of common interest together, or to celebrate some special occasion, that prompts parties; and each of these conditions automatically carries the nucleus of a guest list with it. Then, too, most of us know a sprinkling of people who are what might be called party-proof: people who are attractive to meet, who are good mixers, good talkers, generally reliable guests in any company, and who can be safely called on to fill in as needed. With these two groups, then, you have the framework of your party. Now let us suppose you have planned a dinner for twenty and find yourself, after the first-thought names are checked off, still shy that number. You may need fill-ins of either or both sexes. You want to introduce new faces, new talent. So, address book in hand, you begin to sift through the possibilities. Now in entertaining a group of this size it is imperative to be choosy. At a very large party -at a dance for, say, two hundred -it is possible to get away with a cipher or two: if they don't find one another, which is unlikely, you can always arrange to pool them together; but when your party is small, let no one character be wanting. Settle for nothing but the best. Be a celebrity chaser, if you will; celebrities exist in all localities and all walks of life. You like gardening: all right, ask the man or woman with the best garden in town. Your guest of honor has a hobby: ask the fellow enthusiast who is gay and instructive about that hobby. Another guest likes good food: then ask someone who also appreciates food and talks well about it. Still another is a Sunday painter-those two artists in the village aren't rich or famous, but how good they are to listen to, with their stories of other painters. In your immediate environment, choose from the top of the heap.
Call it snobbery if you like. I call it being selective. You don't take just anything that comes along in other walks of life, so why do so when entertaining? Always select the best as you see it, and your reputation as a hostess will quickly bloom. One word of advice, though, on how, having settled for the best, to be sure of getting them there: never seem too eager. A carefully calculated, polite indifference in the invitation does the trick, especially if their positions are up in the stratosphere.
So much for the positive approach to your guest list. Now let us look at the negative-whom to avoid:
In the first place never, in planning a party, give way to pity or sentiment or sense of obligation - this last least of all. Yet it happens all the time - the hostess who, contemplating an incomplete guest list, asks herself the question that, answered and acted on, is likely to throw the whole party out of kilter. Whom, she wonders dismally, do we owe? Now no one ever puts this question to himself gladly. You don't consciously think of the word "owe" in connection with people you enjoy. Owed guests are duty guests, obligations, and the minute you try to fit one into your party-look out! Ask because you feel you must, and the party's a bust before you start. Just because you have reason to be grateful to someone doesn't mean you must feel obligated to wine and dine him. There are other ways of saying thanks. After all, you aren't likely to ask your butcher to dinner simply because he supplied you with a good steak, so why labor the point with others? A good hostess, aware of the pitfalls, never wittingly puts herself under obligation to anyone. When invitations come to her from people she has no wish to entertain in return she simply, politely, and, if possible, with tactful emphasis as a discouragement to future bids, turns them down. I, for one, make it a rule never to accept invitations to parties where I am reasonably sure of being bored: accepting would mean not only one dull evening, but two. I'd feel obligated to return the invitation, and I flatly refuse to put myself under obligation to people who bore me. (My record for refusals, I should say in passing, has been made in New York, where society is so close-knit that many hostesses vary their guest lists not at all from one dinner party to the next. Very boring.) There are exceptions, of course. I am sometimes bound by calling to accept invitations I'd like to refuse, but I keep them, believe me, to an irreducible minimum. Such obligations are, of course, unavoidable for most of us, and in the average household I know that it is occasionally necessary, for business reasons or simply to keep peace in the family, to be entertained by and, in return, entertain duds. But do try to spare your valued friends these occasions; and if this isn't possible, at least refrain from letting the fact be known that you consider your party predoomed. Never say to friends, "You'll probably be bored to death by these people, but please come anyway." That way, you will be ruling out whatever chance there might have been of their discovering some community of interest. If you feel you must alibi yourself try to be a little subtle about it. You can always say, "We're having some people I don't think you've met, but whom you might find interesting." Which is only the truth. If the duty guests don't interest the others as personalities, they may at least interest them as specimens.
As bad as asking obligations - far worse, to my mind, since it is also downright dishonest - is asking people you hope to put under obligation to you. For that there is no excuse whatever. If you do feel bound to confer some favor or other on people in a position to do you a good turn - a very human if regrettable compulsion - then for pity's sake choose some other means than the pretense of enjoying their company. Unless you're a very rare actress indeed you're going to show the strain of being nice to people on whom you have ulterior designs. I recently gave a piece of advice on this subject to a woman who doubtless did not act on it, but I consider it sound advice, worth remembering and using. I met her on the street one day, bags under her eyes, looking ready for the hospital. I asked if she were ill.
"Worse, much worse," she groaned. "I have to give a party for the Browns!"
"Have to give a party? I should think you'd be delighted. I long for a reason to give a party."
"You," she said feelingly, "don't know the Browns. The trouble is, Mrs. Brown's brother is considering my son for a job in his bank. It's a good opening for him - so, I'm giving a dinner for the Browns. Will you come?"
"Certainly not," I said. "And if I were you I'd call the whole thing off. Send Mrs. Brown a good book, tell her you know she'll enjoy it; then you can both stay home and have a lovely time."
There are only two kinds of ulterior-motive entertaining for which I can see a shred of excuse: one is entertaining in what may best be called the world of affairs. The other, debutante dance entertaining. In the first instance, curiosity on the part of a person of prominence to look over a young man or woman of promise in a field that concerns him is certainly justifiable. And, after all, the invitation need not be repeated. I remember, for instance, how tongues wagged when the young Laborite, Aneurin Bevan, first came to London, swallowed his all-consuming class prejudice and, wearing a gray suit and flaming red tie with everyone else in white ties and tails, went to dine with Lord Beaverbrook. Why did Lord Beaverbrook, whose acquaintance with the social amenities has always been slight to say the least, bother with this amiable and intelligent, but politically antagonistic young man? Presumably because Bevan's star was rumored to be rising and Beaverbrook wanted to observe the ascendant at first hand. Why did Bevan walk docilely into the opponent's camp? Out of curiosity no doubt, perhaps the attraction of good food and wine, but more I am sure to see what manner of man Beaverbrook was, with his wealth and power and position-all three of which Bevan, of course, would wish to destroy when he himself came to power. Yes, in the intricate business of empire building, social means are understandably used to serve ambitious ends -and that covers debutantes as well, who are something of empire builders themselves (or so their ambitious mamas hope). Obviously there is something to be said for giving the most auspicious possible boost to the marriageable young, however it's done - whether as in London, where the girls all climb on a conveyer belt at the beginning of the season, the mothers alternating with parties for them, or as in New York, where the belles are poured into one vast hopper for a single night's ball, and that's that. Either way, girl meets girl, thus presumably meets brother of girl, and the contest is on.
It sounds callous, but try, too, when you entertain, to keep your family out of it. Believe me, nobody wants to meet your relatives. Naturally if you can produce one who boasts some personal distinction other than the accident of birth that hung him on your family tree, then by all means include him. The trick here is to be sure you're being strictly objective. Not many people see their relatives as others see them: sentiment comes into it, or clan loyalty, or sense of duty - considerations with which your friends may sympathize, but don't expect them to like it. Family presences - particularly the elders among them -tend to give other guests an uneasy feeling of being under surveillance. No one is quicker than a great-aunt - or even, for that matter, a great-niece - at looking for faults in the company one keeps: knowing this, your friends will bend over backwards to do you the favor of leaving a good impression, becoming in the process all too self-consciously amiable and correct. Worse, they will let themselves be monopolized. From your own point of view, family will inevitably complicate your job as hostess in one of two ways-either (a) by so far forgetting their status as guests, subject to the usual rules of good guest behavior, that they simply settle into the best chairs and wait to be amused, or (b) by so far remembering their status as family that they will feel moved to pitch in with a familial hand: self-appointed stewards in your house, they go meddlesomely about making little suggestions, sincerely trying to be of help, but usually only managing to get in your way. They are, in short, neither fish nor fowl at your parties and they don't belong there. Try to bear in mind that while fate makes our relatives, there is nothing in the natural law that obliges us to make the friends of our choice share in that fate.
Avoid people with causes to boost or grievances to air. You will quickly find them buttonholing and trumpeting and boring all within reach.
Avoid the very shy, uncertain, introverted types. They may not mean to throw a damper on things - indeed they will be so pathetic in their eagerness not to do anything at all to attract notice that it will be impossible not to notice and be dampened by them. Then, too, there is another risk inherent in this type: a bit of the lion lurks in every mouse, and alcohol can usually be depended on to bring it out. A cocktail or two, and your bashful mute may very well turn -or fancy he's turning - into the life of the party, to everyone's distress including his own, come the next day.
Avoid always having the same people together, and by the the same token -and this is another point on which I lock horns with the rulebooks - avoid categorizing groups so that you wind up with a roomful of people all of the same age, or profession, or hobby. As the arbiters have it, at a party where there is to be dancing you must ask only young people who enjoy dancing. At a party where the guest of honor is elderly, ask only more of the elderly. At a party where there is to be music ask only people who are musical. Nonsense. Carry this dictum to its final absurdity and if you happened to be entertaining an eminent herpetologist you would ask only snakes.
Mixing - clever mixing - is the making of any party. I always make it a point, for instance, even in a predominantly eggheaded group, to have a smattering of beautiful women regardless of whether they are dumbbells or not (and most beautiful women are not very bright). But beautiful women are like beautiful flowers. You must have them, and if you are a clever hostess you will place them as you do your flowers - for best effect. Put them where they'll be shown off to advan tage. Put a lovely young girl next to a man with a beard. Mix. Juggle. Keep the pattern changing.
As for the limits of age, there are none. It is true, of course, that when you give a dance you will want to put the emphasis on young people who enjoy dancing - most older people prefer good conversation - but that's no reason to leave the older people out of it. If they don't want to dance (and there's a waltz or two left in us septuagenarians yet, believe it or not) they can talk just as well, and probably enjoy themselves more, to the accompaniment of pleasant music and the spectacle of the young getting off a fast cha-cha, than they would in the more sedate atmosphere of somebody's drawing room. If nothing else they can have a high old time making shocked comparisons between the dances of their day and the saturnalias that pass for dances now.
But if you underplay older people at a dance, at the average party it matters not at all how you mix ages. After all, a good many oldsters are among the most interesting people in the world. They've seen more than the young, done more, read more, heard more, traveled more - how could they fail, then, to have more to give? Leaving out the tedious reminiscers - and I have never thought this so much a failing of advanced age as of character: bores now, they probably always were bores - what young person would not want to meet a man as rich in experience as, say, Dr. Schweitzer, Toscanini, Senator Fulbright? At the other end of the stick, what older person would not find something to interest him in Marlon Brando, in the Shah of Iran - a living and fascinating king - in the Aly Khan? No, age differences should be no barrier in entertaining. Only be sure to combine them in good proportion. Always have more of one group than the other. That way the larger group will absorb the smaller; divide them evenly and you are very apt to find them dividing themselves into separate camps - to each his own.
Too, mix people of different political and religious persuasions, different incomes, different professions. It's surprising how much understanding can be awakened in people of conflicting views over a good dinner, and the controversial talk along the way will keep things lively.
Of course, in mixing as in everything else, taste and judgment enter in: it is as bad to mix imprudently as not to mix at all. Obviously it would be unfair to bring sworn enemies together, just for the fun of lighting the fuse, and it would be the height of rudeness to have people who for one reason or another might be offensive to others at the same party.
In planning a guest list for a large party ask as many people as you need to fill your room, at the outset, to the point of crowding. That way there will be no vacuums at the crucial, starting hour, when it is important to set the right mood. Later, when people start drifting off before the party's over-as they will at any large party-those who are left will have formed their own groups, and gaps here and there won't matter.
Also at large parties -particularly, of course, if there is to be dancing, when it is vital -it is well to have extra men. At small seated parties aim to have the sexes balance. (If there must be an imbalance have it, as hardly needs saying, in favor of men; spare women spell death.) But most men, while they enjoy a chat together at a party, will be bored witless to find themselves seated side by side at dinner.
At very small parties - dinners for, say, six or eight - don't have only married couples. Break it up. If possible, ask at least one man and one woman who are new to the others, and preferably new to each other. No ulterior motive, you understand -although it's always fun to launch a romance if you can - but a new man brings out the best in any woman, and vice versa; and the two together will keep the rest of the company on their toes.
How you invite guests depends, of course, on the kind of party you're giving. If it's to be a large party with dancing, printed invitations should go out at least three weeks to a month before the date. Note that I say printed rather than engraved, as the rulebooks insist is proper for any and all formal - dress - occasions. Certainly invitations for such things as weddings, debutante balls, formal receptions, and the like are customarily engraved; but these aren't really parties - they're social rituals; not my kind of entertaining at all, and I don't propose to go into the ways and means of them here. Look to Mrs. Post and her lesser sisters if it's the ceremonious you're after in your entertaining. For that matter, any good stationer will be happy to show you samples of appropriate forms for formal invitations from which you can take your choice: in this event be guided only by the first precept of good taste - simplicity. But with these more or less prescribed exceptions, I can see no reason for adding to the expense of an already expensive party -and the cost of giving a dance, in particular, is dizzying -by going into debt to an engraver simply to oblige the whim of the rulebookers. And my quarrel is not with the expense alone. Engraved invitations are invariably set pieces, subject to all manner of rules as to format and wording. As a result they look stiff, they are stiff, and stiffness is hardly the most desirable note to strike in a bid to come and have fun. Printed invitations, on the other hand, can be as colorful and gay as you choose, can say what you choose to say in whatever way you choose to say it. Why not give them a personal touch? Invest in a bottle of India ink, do it yourself, and let your local printer take it from there.
In the area of small-scale entertaining there is one species of hostess for whom an engraved form of invitation makes sense, and that is the city woman who entertains often, at home, and with a degree of formality -and by often I mean a dinner party a week, sometimes more. For her, it is a saving of time and trouble to have cards engraved - approximately 4" x 5" in size - on which spaces are left blank to be filled in as needed, as:
Mr. and Mrs. John Doe Smith request the pleasure of [Miss Elsa Maxwell's] company [for dinner] on [day and date] at [8:00] o'clock 123 East Main Street R.S.V.P.
If evening dress is called for, Black tie is written in on the lower right-hand corner.
These cards may also double as reminders to acceptances to whom the hostess has telephoned the invitation or otherwise delivered it in person. In that case, lest the invitee feel obliged to accept all over again, the R.s.v.¢. is simply crossed out.
For small informal parties at home, telephoned invitations are easy and expedient, in that you will know where you stand on acceptances and regrets and so be able to check them off - revising the guest list, if need be-as you go. For larger parties at home, there's nothing wrong with doing your asking by telephone either-except the risk you run of involving yourself with chatty friends just dying to settle in for a good gossip: when you've a list of thirty or forty names to work through in the shortest possible time, an informal note or a note written on your personal card (the fold-over type) is a simple matter of self-protection.
If your party is to be away from home - at a club or restaurant or hotel where reservations must be made-it is always well to let your guests have the particulars of time and place in writing. Even if the party is small, and you've done your initial inviting by telephone or in person, a written reminder to acceptances will safeguard against the address or the hour having been misunderstood, or jotted down on the wrong date on the calendar, or, as can happen to the most orderly of us, not jotted down at all. Too, follow-ups should be sent, and for the same reasons, if your invitations have been given verbally and several weeks in advance . . . lest they forget. But this last contingency is not apt to arise often -not the way we do things here. Most Americans are in the habit of inviting friends on the spur of the moment for a party the next night or the next week - I do it myself when I'm in New York, where my friends are all of a good sixty seconds away by telephone; where, moreover, I'm usually pretty well acquainted with their datebooks. In Europe, however, where the social observances are considerably more measured and where the telephone is not held to be the center of all existence as it is to us, hostesses send out invitations for lunch or dinner-however small and informal the party is to be-about three weeks in advance, and engraved reminder cards about a week in advance. The usual form for the reminder is:
This is to remind you that The Duke and Duchess of expect you on [day and date] for [lunch or dinner] at [ ] o'clock [address]
Many American hostesses -at least those with heavy social schedules -use these reminder cards, but for the majority, who entertain only occasionally and then informally, a handwritten note, or, again, a note on a personal card, even a line or two on a "penny" postcard, is perfectly adequate. Indeed, for the great number of modern-day hostesses formal reminder cards would be downright pretentious -hardly suitable, let's say, for the casserole-and-salad-on-the-buffet kind of party, over which the hostess presides, when she's not in the kitchen, done up in her best dirndl.
But engraved, printed, written, telephoned, or simply mentioned in passing - however you do your inviting - be explicit. Nothing is more maddening than the casually offered, "We're having a few people in on Friday - our anniversary. Will you come? Eightish?" - this from someone you don't know particularly well, and whose way of entertaining you know not at all. That Friday now. Presumably the next - but is it? Could it be that you are expected to know on what particular Friday their anniversary falls? And "eightish." Dinner, of course -but, again, is it? There are people who dine at the incredible hours of six or - less incredibly - seven, and consider eight o'clock and on the shank of the evening. (On this point, America is the only country I know where any such confusion is possible: we seem to dine at all hours, from sundown on. In Spain, for instance, a guest understands that an invitation for i i P.m. means dinner. In France it is io:3o, in Italy q:3o, in London 8:30. New Yorkers pretty generally favor 8:00, but in other parts of the country it is often earlier.) But to get on with the puzzle: what about dress? No clue in the invitation there. Full fig? Or the same old regulation blackwith-pearls?
Unless your invitations are to intimates, people who know you well and whom you've entertained often, make sure they are unmistakably clear. As a hostess, your obligation to guests is to make things as comfortable for them as possible, and confusing them at the outset is no help at all. Never leave a guestto-be in the smallest doubt as to the day, the date, and the hour when he is expected, nor for what purpose (dinner? a fourth at bridge? dancing? the theater?), nor how he should be dressed. Properly worded, for example, that befuddling bid above would have gone something like this: "Will you come for dinner, and bridge after, on Friday, the eighteenth? Eight o'clock-and we're not dressing." A bit more succinct, perhaps, than normal delivery would make it, but the bones of the event are there no matter how many little pleasantries you add to flesh them up.
Note, too, that nothing is said of an anniversary. Giving a shower or birthday party or other such for a mutual friend is one thing: guests are asked to bring gifts and no apologies needed. All right, too, to rally a few intimates - repeat, intimates -for the birthday of a member of your family with the understanding that some little thing in hand is expected of them. But to ask casual friends, to even suggest to them that they put themselves out of time and pocket to mark a celebration in which they cannot conceivably have more than a polite interest is unfair: most of us have more births and birthdays and weddings to cope with than we care to think about as it is. Always be sure that a guest coming to your house for the first time has the address correct and in hand, and if it is a sometime guest, confirm it for him. If you are a suburban or country dweller and your guests are coming by car, give them not only the address but precise directions for finding the place - a landmarked map is a nice courtesy and a blessing to the driver. If they are coming by train, either send them a timetable on which you've checked a recommended train, or ask them to let you know the one it will be convenient for them to take. In either case, tell them if they'll be met at the station and by whom and if it isn't possible to meet them (and you would need a very valid excuse indeed for not doing so), write out the directions they will need to give a taxi man. Nothing can be more dismaying than to alight from a train onto a strange station platform with only the vaguest notion of where to go from there: pioneer blood is not strong in most of us.
And while we're in the country: what to wear to a party is always a burning question, especially to women, and a good hostess will always be sure her guests are spared possible embarrassment by giving them what data they need in this regard, never more necessarily than when she entertains on a country week end. Always advise prospective house guests what the social program for their stay is to be -day and night, outdoors and in -so that there is no chance of their arriving amply supplied with tweeds and bathing suits, but nothing to wear to that gala country club dance you neglected to mention.
I make it a rule to answer all invitations at once, knowing only too well how difficult it is for a hostess to complete plans for her party - more than difficult: impossible - while there The Pleasure o f Your Company 153 is any doubt as to the number of guests she will have. When you are on the receiving end of an invitation it is simple good man ners to write or telephone your reply on the same day it is received if possible -certainly not more than a day or two after. This is not only good manners -it is a good investment in your own social future. Hostesses, like elephants, have prodigious memories for the good turn.
In writing a note of acceptance, keep it brief. It is enough to say "Delighted - on the ioth at 8:00," or the like. Never mind the effusions about looking forward to with pleasure, etc. At this point all your hostess wants to know is will you? or won't you? Above all, don't pester her with questions (Will you mind awfully if I'm a bit late? Are the So-and-sos to be there?). She has enough to do without having to write unnecessary letters.
When you must send regrets to a hostess whose party you will be sincerely sorry to miss, let her know your reason for having to miss it and just how sincerely sorry you are. When you want to send regrets to a hostess whose parties you can cheerfully and forever do without, be polite about it but try, with tact, to close the door to future invitations. To take an example, there is a world of difference between such a refusal as, "I'm so sorry that a previous engagement will keep me from joining you on the eighteenth. Thank you anyway for thinking of me. Sincerely," and one that is openly and honestly regretful, as, "I'm sick at having to miss your party on the eighteenth, but that, of all days, falls on the week end I'm to be in Washington. Know you'll understand, and that you'll make a huge success of it as always. Love."
The first note is courteous enough, all in good form, yet it hardly sounds as if missing this party or future ones will weigh too heavily on your spirit, and if the hostess is at all perceptive there's a good chance you won't have to worry about refusing her twice. The second note, on the other hand, can leave no doubt as to your affection for the hostess and the value you put on holding a permanent place on her list. It has what I can only call the graceful plus-that small, decisive extra in our relationships that marks the difference between the good friendships - those that last and deepen with time - and the passing friendships that are missed, when they pass, scarcely at all. Never mind how the plus is expressed - a gratuitous word, a gratuitous gesture - it's the thought that counts. I am thinking, for instance, of a day recently when I came back from lunch to find two dozen beautiful long-stemmed red roses waiting for me, sent by the Irving Berlins along with a little note of regret at having to miss one of my parties. It was a charming thing to do, the plus gesture of people who take friendship as a trust, who know the art of pleasing others, who understand, in fact, the art of being good guests, even in absentia.