“I Don’t Think It’s Rude, But…” Etiquette Experts Perplexed Over First Lady’s Party Plans

Michelle Obama performing on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" in the "Evolution of Mom Dancing" (AP Photo/NBC, Lloyd Bishop)
Michelle Obama performing on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” in the “Evolution of Mom Dancing” (AP Photo/NBC, Lloyd Bishop)

Guests attending Michelle Obama’s 50th birthday party at the White House later this month can look forward to “a little Dougie” but definitely not dinner.

Word’s out that the lucky VIPs invited to fete Mrs. Obama at a “Snacks & Sips & Dancing & Dessert” party have been advised to dust off their dancing shoes and, more strictly, “to eat before you come.”

While it’s always nice to give the stiletto sporting crowd a heads-up, the East Wing’s “EBYC” directive has some folks in the party planning business scratching their heads.

“I don’t think it’s rude, but I do think it’s a little . . . different than what people are used to. How’s that for putting it delicately?” joked Lizzie Post, great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post and co-author of “Great Get-Togethers: Casual Gatherings and Elegant Parties at Home.”

Colin Cowie, Oprah Winfrey’s go-to entertainment guru, worded his reaction gracefully.

“To ask people to ‘eat before you come’ is not the way I would have done it,” Cowie said. “I always think of the food. When it comes to making people feel welcome we give them great music, a well-stocked bar, and excellent food — and you do it abundantly.”

Area party planner Andre Wells agreed that telling guests to grab a meal before they attend a get-together is a bit unusual.

“I’ve never seen it said straight out. That is definitely new,” said Wells, before adding that some harried hostesses might appreciate the break in protocol. “But I know a lot of people will be happy about it. They’ll say, ‘Well, if the president and first lady said it, we can certainly say it on our invites.’ ”

Not so fast, warned Post.

“My advice to people would be not to put ‘eat before you come’ on an invite,” Post said. “And this is not a specific etiquette thing. To me it just sounds so instructive. I’m still in the camp of letting them know what will be served at the party instead of what they should do.”

Whether the Obama’s “EBYC” will start a trend on the party circuit remains to be seen. In the meantime, the first lady, who told children at a local hospital that she’s going to be “fifty and fabulous,” plans to celebrate her own way.

“It seems like a very causal party, and she’s turning 50,” Wells said. “The older you get, I feel like you can say what you want.”

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Helena Andrews is the co-author of The Reliable Source. Follow her on Twitter @helena_andrews, and send your hot tips, sightings, and gossip to reliablesource@washpost.com.
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