Etiquette lessons are all around us, even in the most unlikely places. If you’ve turned on a television in recent years, you know that these unlikely places include New York, New Jersey, Beverly Hills, Orange County, and Atlanta. That’s right, we’re talking about the ladies from Bravo TV’s Real Housewives franchise. Over the seasons, across the country, these ladies have set some good (and some bad) etiquette examples. So, what lessons can we learn from these Housewives?
Lesson #1: Dress for the Occasion
On last season of the Real Housewives of New York, Ramona and Alex wore shades of cream to a Hampton’s wedding. Recent trends in wedding fashion have included off-white and ivory for bridesmaids’ dresses, but a guest wearing anything that resembles white is still a fashion don’t. When invited to an event, after RSVPing, the next important etiquette step is Lesson #1: Dress for the Occasion.
One of the most important things to consider when heading to event is the dress code. Even if there is no explicit dress code suggested, the time of day, type of fête, and location all should be considered when selecting your ensemble. For daytime parties, casual attire is appropriate. Ladies, think sundresses, skirts, or dressy cropped pants. Gentlemen, pressed khakis and polo shirts are standard issue. Evening affairs call for more dressy attire: cocktail dresses and heels for women, and suits, possibly tuxedos, for men. In addition to the time of the party, it’s important to consider the type of event you’ll be attending. Heading to a barbecue? It’s completely appropriate to be dressed down. Bridal or baby shower? Pretty dresses and feminine tops are the order of the day. Office gathering? Add a dash of fun (maybe a statement necklace) to the standard dress code. Event location is another key factor when selecting your look. If you’ll be outside, check the forecast to be sure you’ll be dressed for the weather – cardigans and pashminas are great ways to ensure you’ll be both stylish and comfortable all party long. Considering the landscape is also important for outside parties. Mingling at a beach wedding or picnic on the lawn in heels is treacherous while a windy locale calls for clothes and hairstyles that stay in place.
Lesson #2. Never Show Up Uninvited
On a recent episode of the Real Housewives of Atlanta, Nene unexpectedly showed up at the airport with controversial friend, Marlow, and announced her intent to join the group on its South African getaway. Obviously, this was excellent fodder for the cameras, but it brings up Lesson #2: Never Show Up Uninvited.
In a world of increasingly casual exchanges, where invites are texted and RSVPs are sent by Facebook message, an invitation still needs to come directly from the hostess. Only in rare cases, say a large gathering to celebrate a popular event, like a Superbowl party, when a hostess has opened her party to a more general audience, is it acceptable to show up as a friend of a friend. Of course, if you are tagging along as a plus-one, you are considered an invited guest, regardless of your familiarity with the hostess. Just make sure that your date is confident his invite included a guest and that you are his only plus-one!
Lesson #3: Honor Thy Hostess
Lisa, from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, rarely goes anywhere without her pint-sized pup Giggy, so it was not a complete surprise that she brought him to a dinner party thrown by her neighbor, Adrienne. What was a complete surprise was that Lisa had Giggy drinking water out of one of Adrienne’s crystal flutes. Cue the flabbergasted looks from the other Housewives around the table. They were all shocked to learn that Lisa didn’t know Lesson 3#: Honor Thy Hostess.
There are several important ways to honor your hostess when invited to an event. First of all, be on time. Depending on what part of the country you live in, being on time for a party could mean ringing the doorbell promptly at the time stated on the invite, or it could mean arriving five to fifteen minutes fashionably late is expected. Whatever your locale, be courteous to your hostess and arrive when she has instructed. This will ensure that she and her home, food & drinks, and any servers are ready to help you have fabulous time. Showing up late can disrupt the party. Your tardy entrance could interrupt conversations that just found their rhythm and have disastrous effects on dishes requiring careful timing. Just as important as not showing up late? Not showing up early. If you’ve ever thrown a party, you know that those last minutes before guests turn up are used to put the finishing touches on you and the event. Show up early and you may find your hostess finishing her makeup or prepping the punch in her robe.
Once you have arrived at your party destination at the appropriate time, go with the flow. As a party guest, your job is to have a lovely time and make sure your hostess knows your appreciation. Everyone has different ideas about what kind of party they want to host. Some prefer to throw potlucks while others enjoy preparing every dish themselves. Whichever your host prefers, go with it. If asked to bring something, let your culinary skills shine. If not, enjoy a night off from cooking and relish the opportunity to try new dishes. I love that Prohibition era cocktails are all the rage now, but many of my guests prefer wine. I always appreciate when my guests are up for venturing out of their comfort (née chardonnay) zone and try a Zelda Fitzgerald. Party thrown by a vegetarian, but you love steak? Fill up on veggies and hummus, then hit up a late night diner if you’re still hungry afterward. Hostesses often go to great lengths to ensure guests are comfortable and accommodated. By going with the flow, you return that favor.
Before you depart, be sure to thank your hostess for her hospitality. It’s always nice to specify some aspect of the event you particularly enjoyed, whether it was the food, decor, or the vibe she created. Be sure to follow up that thank you with a phone call or note the next day to solidify your reputation as a proper party guest.
Lesson #4. Bring Your Best Manners to the Dinner Table
Who could forget Teresa’s table flipping incident on season one of the Real Housewives of New Jersey? This display of bad manners was so outrageous that even her brother Joe’s table slamming episode at his son’s christening couldn’t top it. So, other than the fact that the Giudice siblings need some dining refinement, what else can we learn from them about postmodern etiquette? Lesson #4: Bring Your Best Manners to the Dinner Table
What table manners are most important as a party guest? Neatness is key to being a sought after party guest. Often, hostesses open up their homes, and in this setting, being sure to clean up after yourself is paramount. This means using coasters for cocktails, picking up bits of food that you may drop, and generally leaving things as you found them. Your hostess wants you to be comfortable, but don’t feel that’s a reason to leave your manners at home. As the party winds down, ask if there’s anything you can do to help clean up.
Being actively engaged in the dinner conversation is a great way to show your social savvy. Your hostess has a vision for how she wants the evening to unfold. Whether her vision involves tasting exotic cuisine (See Lesson #5), dissecting current events, or viewing pictures from her latest trip, part of your role as guest is to appease her. If nothing she is asking you to do hurts you or someone else or is against a deep conviction you hold, play along.
Lesson #5: Be an Agile Conversationalist
On this season’s Real Housewives of Orange County, Vicki threw a dinner party where she served a Cajun meal in homage to her new beau. After explaining her new found love of Southern cuisine, servers brought out the first course of gumbo, complete with corn chips for garnish. Tamra, then proceeded to make a scene about being served Fritos. Cue Vicki’s mortification, not at serving Fritos, but at her friend making rude remarks about the food she carefully selected. One of the other housewives, Gretchen, jumped in to defend Vicki’s culinary choice, likening the corn chips in the gumbo to tortilla strips in tortilla soup, to try to smooth the waters. Bravo Gretchen, for demonstrating Lesson #5: Be an Agile Conversationalist.
Awkward, even hostile, conversations can arise in social situation, particularly if the topics of politics, religion, and money arise. The keys to being an agile conversationalist, and a valued party guest, are humor and deflection. Making light of the situation, even using a little self-deprecating humor can defuse tense situations you may find yourself in. Asked about your candidate of choice in the upcoming election? Confess your desire for an evening of lighthearted mingling after the long board meeting you had earlier in the day and turn the conversation to the inquisitor’s hobbies. After touring your new digs, a housewarming guest insists your share your mortgage payment? Politely brush her off, insisting with a laugh, “I’m sure not what you think” to shut down any further monetary probing. If you sense a conversation has taken on a heated tone, remind your fellow guests that your hostess would surely love for the debaters to agree to disagree and enjoy the party. Then, steer one of them to the buffet.
Though we can only guess where the next installment of the Real Housewives franchise will take place, we can be sure that there will be even more etiquette lessons to come. But no matter your zip code, being a well-mannered party guest is always in style.