If you've just received an invitation to your first formal cocktail party, you may be experiencing a complex mix of emotions -- excitement, anticipation, glee, and anxiety. Although these parties are glamorous and fun, they can also be intimidating for a first-timer, particularly if you aren't sure of the ins and outs of formal party etiquette. You may be worried about making an inadvertent faux pas or social blunder. Read on to learn more about what you'll want to do to prepare for the party, as well as what you might expect from the party itself.
What should you wear?
Fortunately for women, this decision often seems easy -- cocktail parties require a cocktail dress. However, the time, season, and location of the party can dictate the specific type of dress you'll want to select. For formal winter holiday parties, a long cocktail dress in a deep jewel tone can shine, while for summer parties you may want to select a shorter, more flirty dress with a stunning pair of heels.
In either situation, if you're unsure of your ensemble choice you can't go wrong with a little black dress. Be sure to test-drive your outfit before the party to ensure that you can stand comfortably in your shoes, sit or bend over in your dress, and unzip yourself to use the restroom.
Men should generally wear a suit and tie combo -- whether a tailored suit or a blazer and pants. Tuxedos aren't necessary, and could make you look overdressed. By keeping the larger parts of your outfit simple and muted, in dark but coordinating colors, you can experiment with fun accessories -- a belt buckle, pocket square, or fedora. Testing this outfit before the big day is also a good idea and should help you avoid any last-minute wardrobe mishaps.
What should you bring?
It's always good party etiquette to bring the host a small gift or token of appreciation for his or her hospitality. Because cocktail parties involve a lot of simultaneously moving parts, you may want to focus on gifts that require little action on the host's part.
For example, if you bring flowers, be sure to include a vase so the host doesn't have to take time from what he or she was doing to track one down. Consumables (like wine, chocolate, or cheese) are usually appreciated -- although you may want to discreetly inquire about any food allergies (or preferences) first.
What should you talk about?
Cocktail parties are a great chance to catch up with old friends, neighborhood acquaintances, or even coworkers. The spirit of these parties tends to be light and carefree -- so you should avoid divisive or depressing conversation topics as best you can.
Although many topical events can be interesting and help spark lively conversation, you'll likely want to shy away from discussions involving religion, controversial political issues (like abortion or gun control), or social issues (like racism or homophobia). Cocktail parties also aren't the time to go into detailed descriptions of medical procedures, other ailments, or personal family issues.
If small talk isn't your forte, you can prepare for a cocktail party by running through a list of questions to ask other guests. Finding out who else will be in attendance and learning a few hobbies, work accomplishments, or other interests can give you a great starting point. By asking questions and showing interest in others' answers, you'll appear friendly and sociable. Through this process, you may discover some common interests with an acquaintance or stranger and develop an ongoing friendship.
You may also want to up the ante on your news consumption (or at least headline skimming) during the days leading up to the party. This will allow you to participate in conversations about current local, national, and international events that may be raised as a topic of conversation at some point in the evening. Click here for more information.