A Sparkling Vintage Life

1920s  PartyPlanning a Christmas or other holiday party? Here’s some Sparkling Vintage advice which will prove helpful in the extreme should you be hiring waiters and ladies’ maids and have “at least” four rooms at your disposal in which to entertain your guests. (And don’t forget those smelling salts, lest any of your lady guests feel faint!) If your plans are a little more modest . . . well, it’s still fun to read! In coming days we’ll be sharing some ideas on how to add vintage touches to your seasonal celebrations without breaking the bank. In the meantime, enjoy this glimpse of how the other half lived, circa 1860! (from The Ladies Book of Etiquette by Florence Hartley):

The most fashionable as well as pleasant way in the present day, to entertain guests, is to invite them to evening parties, which vary in size from the “company,” “sociable,” “soirée,” to the party, par excellence, which is but one step from the ball.

The entertainment upon such occasions, may vary with the taste of the hostess, or the caprice of her guests. Some prefer dancing, some music, some conversation. Small parties called together for dramatic or poetical readings, are now fashionable, and very delightful.

In writing an invitation for a small party, it is kind, as well as polite, to specify the number of guests invited, that your friends may dress to suit the occasion. To be either too much, or too little dressed at such times is embarrassing.

For large parties, the usual formula is:

Miss S——’s compliments to Miss G——, and requests the pleasure of her company for Wednesday, March 8th, at 8 o’clock.

Such an invitation, addressed either to an intimate friend or mere acquaintance, will signify full dress.

If your party is a musical soirée, or your friends meet for reading or conversation alone, say so in your invitation, as—

Miss S—— requests the pleasure of Miss G——’s company, on Thursday evening next, at 8 o’clock, to meet the members of the musical club, to which Miss S—— belongs;


Miss S—— expects a few friends, on Monday evening next, at 8 o’clock, to take part in some dramatic readings, and would be happy to have Miss G—— join the party.

Always date your note of invitation, and put your address in one corner.

Having dispatched these notes, the next step is to prepare to receive your guests. If the number invited is large, and you hire waiters, give them notice several days beforehand, and engage them to come in the morning. Give them full directions for the supper, appoint one to open the door, another to show the guests to the dressing rooms, and a third to wait in the gentlemen’s dressing-room, to attend to them, if their services are required.

If you use your own plate, glass, and china, show the waiters where to find them, as well as the table cloths, napkins, and other things they may require. If you hire the service from the confectioner’s or restaurateur’s where you order your supper, you have only to show your waiters where to spread supper, and tell them the hour.

You will have to place at least four rooms at the disposal of your guests—the supper room, and two dressing-rooms, beside the drawing-room.

In the morning, see that the fires in your rooms are in good order; and in the drawing-room, it is best to have it so arranged that the heat can be lessened towards evening, as the crowd, and dancing, will make it excessively uncomfortable if the rooms are too warm. See that the lights are in good order, and if you propose to have music instead of dancing, or to use your piano for dancing music, have it put in good tune in the morning. If you intend to dance, and do not wish to take up the carpets, you will find it economical, as well as much pleasanter, to cover them with coarse white muslin or linen; be sure it is fastened down smoothly, firmly, and drawn tightly over the carpets.

Do not remove all the chairs from the parlor; or, if this is necessary, leave some in the hall, for those who wish to rest after dancing.

In the dining-room, unless it will accommodate all your guests at once, have a silk cord so fastened that, when the room is full, it can be drawn across the door-way; those following the guests already in the room, will then return to the parlor, and wait their turn. A still better way, is to set the supper table twice, inviting the married and elderly people to go into the first table, and then, after it is ready for the second time, let the young folks go up.

Two dressing-rooms must be ready; one for the ladies, and the other for the gentlemen. Have both these rooms comfortably heated, and well lighted. Nothing can be more disagreeable than cold, ill-lighted rooms to dress in, particularly if your guests come in half-frozen by the cold of a winter’s night, or still worse, damp from a stormy one.

Be sure that there is plenty of water, soap and towels on the washstand, two or three brushes and combs on the bureau, two mirrors, one large and one small, and a pin cushion, well filled with large and small pins.

In the ladies’ room, have one, or if your party is large, two women to wait upon your guests; to remove their cloaks, overshoes, and hoods, and assist them in smoothing their dresses or hair. After each guest removes her shawl and hood, let one of the maids roll all the things she lays aside into a bundle, and put it where she can easily find it. It is an admirable plan, and prevents much confusion, to pin to each bundle, a card, or strip of paper, (previously prepared,) with the name of the person to whom it belongs written clearly and distinctly upon it.

Upon the bureau in the ladies’ room, have a supply of hair-pins, and a workbox furnished with everything requisite to repair any accident that may happen to the dress of a guest. It is well, also, to have Eau de Cologne, hartshorn, and salts, in case of sudden faintness.

In the gentlemen’s room, place a clothes brush and boot-jack.

It is best to send out your invitations by your own servant, or one hired for that purpose especially. It is ill-bred to send invitations either by the dispatch, or through the post-office; and besides being discourteous, you risk offending your friends, as these modes of delivery are proverbially uncertain.

Be dressed and ready to receive your guests in good season, as some, in their desire to be punctual, may come before the time appointed. It is better to be ready too soon, than too late, as your guests will feel painfully embarrassed if you are not ready to receive them.

For the early part of the evening, take a position in your parlor, near or opposite to the door, that each guest may find you easily. It is not necessary to remain all the evening nailed to this one spot, but stay near it until your guests have all or nearly all assembled. Late comers will of course expect to find you entertaining your guests.

As each guest or party enter the room, advance a few steps to meet them, speaking first to the lady, or if there are several ladies, to the eldest, then to the younger ones, and finally to the gentlemen. If the new comers are acquainted with those already in the room, they will leave you, after a few words of greeting, to join their friends; but if they are strangers to the city, or making their first visit to your house, introduce them to a friend who is well acquainted in your circle, who will entertain them till you can again join them and introduce them to others.

Do not leave the room during the evening. To see a hostess fidgeting, constantly going in and out, argues ill for her tact in arranging the house for company. With well-trained waiters, you need give yourself no uneasiness about the arrangements outside of the parlors. The perfection of good breeding in a hostess, is perfect ease of manner; for the time she should appear to have no thought or care beyond the pleasure of her guests.

Have a waiter in the hall to open the front door, and another at the head of the first flight of stairs, to point out to the ladies and gentlemen their respective dressing-rooms.

Never try to outshine your guests in dress. It is vulgar in the extreme. A hostess should be dressed as simply as is consistent with the occasion, wearing, if she will, the richest fabrics, exquisitely made, but avoiding any display of jewels or gay colors, such as will be, probably, more conspicuous than those worn by her guests.

Remember, from the moment your first guest enters the parlor, you must forget yourself entirely to make the evening pleasant for others. Your duties will call you from one group to another, and require constant watchfulness that no one guest is slighted. Be careful that none of the company are left to mope alone from being unacquainted with other guests. Introduce gentlemen to ladies, and gentlemen to gentlemen, ladies to ladies.It requires much skill and tact to make a party for conversation only, go off pleasantly. You must invite only such guests as will mutually please, and you must be careful about introductions. If you have a literary lion upon your list, it is well to invite other lions to meet him or her, that the attention may not be constantly concentrated upon one person. Where you see a couple conversing slowly and wearily, stir them up with a few sprightly words, and introduce a new person, either to make a trio, or, as a substitute in the duet, carrying off the other one of the couple to find a more congenial companion elsewhere. Never interrupt an earnest or apparently interesting conversation. Neither party will thank you, even if you propose the most delightful substitute.

If your party meet for reading, have a table with the books in the centre of the apartment, that will divide the room, those reading being on one side, the listeners on the other. Be careful here not to endeavor to shine above your guests, leaving to them the most prominent places, and taking, cheerfully, a subordinate place. On the other hand, if you are urged to display any talent you may possess in this way, remember your only desire is to please your guests, and if they are really desirous to listen to you, comply, gracefully and promptly, with their wishes.If you have dancing, and have not engaged a band, it is best to hire a pianist for the evening to play dancing music. You will find it exceedingly wearisome to play yourself all the evening, and it is ill-bred to ask any guest to play for others to dance. This victimizing of some obliging guest is only too common, but no true lady will ever be guilty of such rudeness. If there are several members of the family able and willing to play, let them divide this duty amongst them, or, if you wish to play yourself, do so. If any guest, in this case, offers to relieve you, accept their kindness for one dance only. Young people, who enjoy dancing, but who also play well, will often stay on the piano-stool all the evening, because their own good-nature will not allow them to complain, and their hostess willfully, or through negligence, permits the tax.

See that your guests are well provided with partners, introducing every gentleman and lady who dances, to one who will dance well with them. Be careful that none sit still through your negligence in providing partners.

Do not dance yourself, when, by so doing, you are preventing a guest from enjoying that pleasure. If a lady is wanted to make up a set, then dance, or if, late in the evening, you have but few lady dancers left, but do not interfere with the pleasure in others. If invited, say that you do not wish to take the place of a guest upon the floor, and introduce the gentleman who invites you to some lady friend who dances.

It is very pleasant in a dancing party to have ices alone, handed round at about ten o’clock, having supper set two or three hours later. They are very refreshing, when it would be too early to have the more substantial supper announced.

It is very customary now, even in large parties, to have no refreshments but ice-cream, lemonade, and cake, or, in summer, fruit, cake, and ices. It is less troublesome, as well as less expensive, than a hot supper, and the custom will be a good one to adopt permanently.

One word of warning to all hostesses. You can never know, when you place wine or brandy before your guests, whom you may be tempting to utter ruin. Better, far better, to have a reputation as strict, or mean, than by your example, or the temptation you offer, to have the sin upon your soul of having put poison before those who partook of your hospitality. It is not necessary; hospitality and generosity do not require it, and you will have the approval of all who truly love you for your good qualities, if you resolutely refuse to have either wine or any other intoxicating liquor upon your supper-table.

If the evening of your party is stormy, let a waiter stand in the vestibule with a large umbrella, to meet the ladies at the carriage door, and protect them whilst crossing the pavement and steps.

When your guests take leave of you, it will be in the drawing-room, and let that farewell be final. Do not accompany them to the dressing-room, and never stop them in the hall for a last word. Many ladies do not like to display their “sortie du soirée” before a crowded room, and you will be keeping their escort waiting. Say farewell in the parlor, and do not repeat it.

If your party is mixed, that is, conversation, dancing, and music are all mingled, remember it is your place to invite a guest to sing or play, and be careful not to offend any amateur performers by forgetting to invite them to favor the company. If they decline, never urge the matter. If the refusal proceeds from unwillingness or inability on that occasion, it is rude to insist; and if they refuse for the sake of being urged, they will be justly punished by a disappointment. If you have guests who, performing badly, will expect an invitation to play, sacrifice their desire to the good of the others, pass them by. It is torture to listen to bad music.

Do not ask a guest to sing or play more than once. This is her fair share, and you have no right to tax her too severely to entertain your other guests. If, however, the performance is so pleasing that others ask for a repetition, then you too may request it, thanking the performer for the pleasure given.

What are your party plans this season? Is your ballgown ready?