“Like they used to” sounds like something an older person might say about “kids and their iPods and their sex parties”, and so I try to avoid using it. I try to realize that we will always romanticize the past, to the point where, no matter what, I think I looked “Whoa, so much prettier” four months ago than I do today. Even if I definitely look so much prettier today than four months ago, there’s something about that person being gone that makes them more marvelous. The same can be said for modern times in general.
That being said, you should realize I’m about to apply the label very carefully:
People do not do parties like they used to. If you can come, that’s cool, whatever. If not, whatever. I’ll make a Facebook event and upload a .gif from WhatShouldWeCallMe or slap “HAPPY BIRTHDAY JASON” text on a copy of the birthday boy’s profile pic. We’ll have two cases of PBR in the fridge. And… go!
This is totally fine for an uber-casual last-minute get together, the kind that surprises even you, the last-minute hostess, and you surprise yourself by managing to scrounge up a last-minute bag of chips and salsa.
But when you want to entertain, to me, that just doesn’t cut it.
In a world where most of us have hundreds, if not thousands, of “friends”, we’ve become very disconnected. We so rarely show real effort towards one another, especially if they’re new friends. I don’t need to tout the beauty of a handwritten letter–the internet is plastered with such odes. My version?
Throw a well-crafted party.
This summer semester was wicked. I took three classes and spent hours upon hours upon hours in class, studying, going to work, studying on my lunch hour, going back to school, going back to work, and pretty much not hanging out with O or my friends or O’s friends. In conjunction with my difficult schedule, a few of his friends took the bar this summer. There’s more signs of life on Neptune than in a house of a recent law-grad taking the bar.
So I asked O if we could throw a good–not too big, no keg–but substantial–dinner party, perhaps. Staring down at my itsy budget, I then added “…potluck-style”, and we were pleased. It’s like finding a Jello mold and making the most elegant gelatin shot of your life out of it: turning what once was kitsch into cool.
For all of you who are new to entertaining, or simply need a better roadmap than the “turn left at the tree then right at that house with the porch” directions you get from the guy at the gas station, I’m outlining the steps to throwing a great, well-organized party that leaves everybody happy. Especially you.
Step 1: What? Decide what type of event you want to throw.
Examples? Potluck, full-out dinner party, kegger, cocktails, brunch, etc.
This will dictate where and who. If you already have a “who” or “where” in mind, use that to guide your What? decision.
Step 2: Where? Now that you know what sort of shindig you want to rock, it’s time to decide where you’ll have it.
Do you have a killer backyard? What about a rooftop with a view? A stellar living room, perfect for cocktails for ten? You need to decide on your location ASAP, as this will dictate your guest list, theme, and menu.
Step 3: Who? Decide how many people you want to be there. Start by inviting the people you absolutely must have there, and then add logically.
Be careful; “logical” guest list add-ons can spiral out of control! But you know your friends best: Are they flaky? Are they die-hard commitment-lovers? Use a guessorithm (That’s guess + algorithm. It’s more scientific than a guesstimation. There’s a difference. [And guestimation makes it sound like I’m trying to pun.]) and create a guest list based on your target number of guests, the avoidance of hurt feelings, and a general feeling of happiness and cheer. Now is not the time for your two estranged best friends to SURPRISE!-work-it-out. We all saw that episode where Heidi crashed LC’s birthday party. Don’t do it.
We decided to invite around thirty friends, knowing that, around babies, residency, and vacations, about half would be able to come.
Step 4: Pick a theme. What scene do you want to set?
You’ve got your time, location, and general number of guests. This will lead you in a clear direction for a theme. If you’re hosting a Sunday afternoon brunch for eight girlfriends, you’ll probably nix the barnyard chic invitations. If you’re inviting over a bunch of guys so they stop teasing your boyfriend about how he’s fallen off the face of planet since you, you’ll probably skip over rental black swans swimming in your saltwater pool. Unless you want him to keep getting teased.
With the guidelines you’ve set, start manifesting what you envision in your head when you think of your event. How do you do this? Two ways: bottom-up or top-down. For this event, I went bottom-up.
Here’s how it went: I knew I wanted to make our friends feel special, so I started picking out real invitations. I personally used Cocodot, which also provided free online invitations, but there are several excellent print/electronic sites out there, like polkadotdesign.com, paperinkdesigns.com, and paper-source.com.
I found a design that perfectly fit the mood I wanted to convey at the party: light, end-of-summer, and casual, yet elegant.
[I later eschewed actual printed invitations because of the disproportionate cost, but sent virtual copies. No matter–the extra effort to personally design unique invitations was appreciated, and let us splurge in other departments.]
However, the most important part of the invitation-picking process was that my color scheme was essentially then laid out for me: light pink, a shade of orange, and teal. From there, I mixed in decor like a Bob Ross paint-by-number, balancing light and airy with fresh and quirky. I started at the bottom, with a simple color scheme on an invitation, and fed inspiration from there, using Pinterest, MarthaStewart.com, and my good ol’ brain.
If you were to go top-down, however, you might start browsing Pinterest and pinning anything that catches your eye. Make a board specifically for your event, and, after a good pinning session, take a look at the board as a whole. You’ll start to get a feel for what it is you want to do, and you can separate out the pins that fit that and get rid of those that don’t.
This should leave you with a good idea of your theme. You don’t have to start gathering decor just yet, so a good idea of the theme is sufficient for now. Go back to your board often and let the idea mature, until you’ve settled on specifics. You can check out my board for the potluck here.
NOTE: Steps 3 and 4 can be interchangeable. If you have a good idea of how many you guests you’d like to entertain but aren’t totally sure of the specifics just yet, you can go ahead with step 4. You’re probably quite excited and inspired right now! Use that. You can always make tedious “will-Amy-get-mad-if-we-don’t-invite-Wendy?” lists later, just keep an overall target number and crowd in mind. Inviting 20 guys = keg and box of wings from the grocery store. Inviting 20 guys with their girlfriends = signature cocktail, imported beer, bite-sized baked brie..
Next week, we’ll delve deeper! Menus, specific decor, music, and what to wear coming up!0