In these modern times of potluck suppers and casual get-togethers, who does not love an opportunity to bask in the halcyon days when ladies and gentlemen “dressed for dinner,” even when dining solo or with immediate family?
The Christmas season presents an ideal opportunity to invite friends to share in this elegant tradition of times past — the black tie dinner, an orchestrated event that requires thoughtful consideration of minute details well in advance.
The invitation sets the stage without question. Sending a formal invitation prepares guests for this sophisticated soiree, and receiving the nod for such a dinner party shakes a sequin in the soul with high expectation and excitement. Invitations are often handwritten on an elegant card with stylish script; thus, the recipient anticipates a special night.
Attire sets the tone for the evening. Natty men don black tie to include a white dress shirt with black bow tie, an evening waistcoat or cummerbund, and a dinner jacket, often accented with a pocket handkerchief. Cummerbunds and bow ties today are sometimes made with an accent color or pattern, which gives the gentleman a look of individuality. A cummerbund with a unique needlepoint pattern provides another option for expressing the wearer’s personality or special interests. Ladies sparkle with a swish of their skirts, which are traditionally floor length gowns, but today may be substituted with cocktail dresses. All that needs to be added are heels, stylish coiffures, heirloom jewelry, and evening lipstick. Think of a movie like To Catch a Thief, with debonair Cary Grant escorting the alluring Grace Kelly back to her room after their introductory drink.
Preparing for a black-tie dinner requires thoughtful consideration as to timing throughout the evening to insure a festive mood with laughter. Often, Champagne or a voguish cocktail is served upon entering the hosts’ home, with someone greeting you and taking your coat or wrap. A postured server might pass hors d’oeuvres with linen napkins, and a well-stocked bar is often available.
Lighting should be dim, but not dark, with candles flickering and soft music playing in the background. This is a perfect opportunity to use your pink lightbulbs — simply swap them for your regular white ones in every lamp throughout the house, and dim any overhead lights. The room should have a warm, welcoming glow, encouraging the buzz of relaxed, natural conversation. Hosting a swank black-tie dinner at Christmas will put a jingle in your step and put you on the party circuit for hostess extraordinaire among your friends. Keep the sophisticated tradition of social graces alive and be the talk of the town this Christmas.
Emily Post Table Settings Tips
- Eating utensils should be placed from an outside-in order, for use in the progression of the meal.
- Knife blades should always be placed with the cutting edge toward plate.
- No more than three of any implement should be on the table, except an oyster fork. If more than three courses are served before dessert, then utensils for the fourth course are brought with the meal. In this case, dessert spoons and forks should be brought in on the dessert plate.
- A service plate or charger holds the plate or bowl for the first course, which is brought to the table. When the first course is cleared, the charger is used for all courses until the entree is served, at which point the plates are exchanged.
- The butter plate is placed above the forks at the left.
- Glasses are placed on the right above the knives and spoons. As many as five can be set, placed in the order in which they are used.
- Napkins are placed on top of the charger or to the left of the forks or under the forks if space is tight.
- White linens are still considered the most formal, but colored linens are elegant as well.
- The most formal table settings are strictly symmetrical with a centerpiece in the middle, always low enough so guests can see one another.