Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The ABCs of Entertaining

And just who is that elegant woman, above? She is Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, former directrice of Nina Ricci. Let me first say that Dariaux is the type of woman that many of us would like to emulate when we become women of a certain age. Her hair was impeccable, the maquillage tasteful, the jewelry quite chic, and that dress...sublime. Of course I'm sure it helped to have that Nina Ricci connection.

So who better to write about elegance than Dariaux? In fact, her first book- titled what else, Elegance- was a primer on how to dress appropriately for every occasion. But it's her 1965 follow-up book,Entertaining With Elegance, that I'm taken with. In it, Dariaux advises the reader on how to entertain with grace and refinement, something which the author seemed to do with aplomb. Her tips are organized alphabetically, so if you need help with ashtrays, punch, place cards, and kissing (not the romantic type, mind you, but rather the purely social variety), you'll know exactly where to look.

So far, I've made it through the D's, so I thought I'd post some of Dariaux's nuggets of wisdom. Unfortunately there are no photos in the book, so I'm improvising with some that I've found in other books. And keep in mind that the book was written 45 years ago- you'll especially need to remember this when you read about preparing dinner for your husband!

(For a more modern approach to entertaining, be sure to check out Joe Nye's forthcoming book Flair: Exquisite Invitations, Lush Flowers, and Gorgeous Table Settings which I'll review soon.)

MAC II included chic sterling cigarette holders and ashtrays on this table.


In the living room they should be big but shallow, stable, plentiful, and emptied when they are full.

Standing ashtrays are not at all chic.

On the dining table, they should be small, pretty (preferably of crystal or silver) and there should be one for every place setting.

Let's see, Andy Warhol designed this birthday table for a child who was 1,2,3...6 years old.


While you would not consider placing on a child's birthday cake anything but the number of candles representing his exact age, the question is more delicate with guests of honor who may not be very anxious to reveal how old they are. This is the system I have adopted:

For children: one candle for every year
For myself: the exact number of years.
For my husband: the same as for myself.
For adults in general: twenty-one candles, if you wish to be very tactful.
For a pretty woman: the most flattering number I can think of.
For somebody over eighty: it all depends. Beyond a certain age, coquetry consists of proudly claiming the maximum years of age- so that it is all the more marvelous, I suppose, to appear so young!

Elsa Peretti managed to make director's chairs look chic


Very few folding chairs are equally suitable for indoor and outdoor use, and if you do a great deal of patio entertaining, it would be advisable also to invest in a set of folding canvas desk chairs, Hollywood-director style, which take up very little storage room. A clever friend of mine has adapted this folding X-model for indoor use in her English-style interior by staining the wooden frames a dark mahogany shade and covering the seat and back with black leatherette, affixed by rows of gilt-headed upholsterer's nails.

If you really want to be naughty, you could tell your guests that the evening's dress code is casual...and you can wear this vintage hostess gown. You'd look great, but your guests would really be steamed.


A hostess should never try to be more elegantly and expensively attired than her guests.

Whenever you entertain, you should inform your guests very precisely as to the kind of dress you yourself intend to wear. I know of nothing more irritating than the hostess who says, "Wear whatever you feel like--" which always makes me want to reply, "All right, I'll come in my nightgown!"

The moral of the story is...do as Mrs. Arthur Hornblow, Jr. and set up an elegant TV Dinner for Two and your husband will think you're the best wife ever.

Dinners for Two:

Why shouldn't a woman feel as if she were giving a dinner party for her husband every evening? ...It seems to me very worthwhile going to a bit of trouble in order to give your husband the impression that every time he comes home in the evening, he is going to a party.

When your little stage setting is ready, you should give a thought to your own appearance and arrange to greet your dinner guest (even though he is in this case your own husband) smiling and fresh, with your hair neatly arranged, wearing a pretty fresh house dress.

A drinks table done right.


At cocktail time: Whisky (Scotch and bourbon), vodka, fruit juice and one of the fortified aperitif wines such as Dubonnet and dry sherry, or a sparkling wine such as champagne.

In the evening: Whisky, fruit juice or soft drinks, and a drink such as gin and tonic in which the spirits are very much diluted in a non-alcoholic mixer, or a sparkling wine.

(Images 2 and 4 from The New Tiffany Table Settings; Images 3 and 6 from Tiffany Table Settings)


  1. This book is now on my must read list. Once again proves good taste never goes out of style. thanks for sharing!

  2. Love this post! Imagine, ashtrays on the table! Glad those days are gone. I got a chuckle out of the dinner party every night for one's husband.

  3. note to self: keep an eye out for these books at book thing, since that's the only place i am likely to find them!

  4. I just can't imagine preparing an elaborate dinner every night for my hubby (although that won't happen b/c I'm single!). But still, can you imagine?

  5. This is one I have had for years - thank you for mentioning an old favorite. I collect older books on entertaining and I love them. This is one of the best though.

  6. Love the post, this kind of entertaining is almost extinct. It makes me want to have an old fashioned dinner party.

  7. I adore Genevieve Antoine Dariaux. I wrote about her a while back for Etiquette Wednesday. Many of her books have been reprinted but not Entertaining With Elegance, which is a shame! She wrote: “The library of a perfect hostess should include a few indispensable volumes.” Entertaining With Elegance is one of those volumes.

  8. Yes to Dinner Parties!! Just using sterling, crystal glasses, linen napkins and candles every night makes a party.
    This is a great post.

  9. She is very chic ! Can you imagine having ashtrays at the table now ?

  10. Anonymous12:34 PM

    I have all Madame D's books and use them. Don't forget to read one about the man in your life. Her ideas for colors to wear, etc. are still very timely.

  11. Love, love, love. All of my dinner parties are throwback style, including ashtrays, even though I don't smoke. I think it is all about making one's guests comfortable by providing everything they might enjoy.

  12. Another great post!! I love it all!!!

  13. Love these types of inspirational books! So vogue and so retro.....
    must rtemind myself to indulge the hubby once in a while!
    Party on!!

  14. Thanks for sharing these! Such fun. I'd seen Elegance - but didn't know of the entertainment version.

  15. So much of this still seems like such good, sound advice...all but the smoking and ashtrays at the dinner table,ick!

  16. Anonymous9:38 PM

    Meg @ Pigtown Design, I actually found her second book at "The Book Thing" a few weeks ago. I'll be happy to share when I finish it!

  17. Anonymous11:51 PM

    I like Kerry's (1:14pm) philosophy: think about what makes your guests comfortable and what they might enjoy - THAT is the peak of chic!

  18. I wish it was done this way now...people don't even write thank you notes any more! Love this blog.

  19. I'm so glad we're past the ashtrays-on-the-table stage! I do remember that my parents had crystal ash trays that they set out for parties when I was really little. Then they realized it made your house stink and had ashtrays on the veranda instead!

  20. Anonymous4:38 PM

    I wish more women "of a certain age" would look to her for guidance in how to present themselves. Instead of trying to be something she's not (particularly young), she represents the very best example of someone who happens to be her age. She reminds me of my mother, who was one of the grande dames of the old school. Now, when women in their 40s, 50s, 60s and even older distort their features in grotesque ways and dress foolishly I always have to wonder who, exactly, they think they're fooling. and the answer is only themselves.

  21. Anon- Well said and so true. Whatever happened to growing old gracefully?

  22. Love this post! Perhaps it's time to pull out those crystal ashtrays for the dinner table, huh?

    Seriously, this book is going to be on my "to read" list. I love old etiquette/entertaining books, although I don't entertain often.

    Great post!

  23. Hostess gowns. My mother and I were discussing them the other day. She has one from the early 1970's and declared it too precious to throw away. The one you showed is lovely.
    I love decorating for dinner parties but my all time fave is afternoon tea.

  24. Anonymous11:22 PM

    I had found this book at one of my favorite haunts and just checked to see how far along I had gotten. I'm on the 'D's as well.

    The ashtray requirements remind me of Dorothy Draper, but I think allowed a stingier one per two people.

    Love your blog!