Party On? Well, if you Must . . . Here Are Tips for Surviving Inaugural Balls

No one knows inaugural parties like Roxanne Roberts. Here, the Reliable Source columnist shares insider tips on getting through the festivities unscathed.Video by Rebecca Davis/
By Roxanne Roberts
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 4, 2009

Here we go again.

Every four years I warn starry-eyed rookies about the inaugural balls, and every four years they ignore my hard-earned advice. I feel like the mom who tells her lovesick teenage daughter, "Trust me, he's going to break your heart." Does the daughter listen? Of course not. She says, "But this one is different."

It's never different.

But if you insist on going, a little advice from someone who's been there, done that:

Tickets: Scoring an invitation to one of the 10 official balls means you're plugged in enough to get in. Either buy a pair of tickets and go, or politely say no and give someone else a chance. Do not be a jerk and resell the tickets, anywhere. Lousy manners, plus that makes it easier for bad guys to sell counterfeit tickets, which unsuspecting folks will learn are no good at the door, breaking their wallets and hearts. Keep hope alive.

Clothes: If you listen to nothing else, please pay attention to this: Do not spend a fortune on a fancy ball gown. And do not wear killer high heels.

Guys, you have it easy. Tux. Comfortable shoes. Trust me, no one cares what you wear, as long as it's not baby blue or ruffled. Ladies -- how can I say this? -- at this ball, there's only one belle: Michelle. The rest of us are just window dressing. It's insane to wear an expensive gown that will get crushed, ignored, stepped on (for God's sake, people, no trains!) and otherwise defaced.

The balls will be jampacked with thousands, and most people will see you from the waist up. Wear something flattering on top, and if you must splurge, treat yourself to a great pair of glitzy earrings. Don't bring heirloom anything, including Grandma's diamond bracelet or anything else you might lose. Not that kind of night.

This is crucial: Wear. Flat. Shoes. I wore four-inch heels at my first inaugural ball and was ready to cut off my feet by the end of the night.

Historically, all the little old ladies immediately claim the few chairs scattered throughout the ballrooms; you will stand all night. There are long lines for security, coat check, bars and restrooms, and no place to sit down, except the floor. You will probably dance to kill time while waiting for the president to show up. Oh, and don't forget the long wait at valet or the long walk to the Metro.

Since most flat shoes don't look great with short skirts, I'd wear a long gown, which will also keep you warm. (See Getting Around, below.)

Coats: Unless you're being dropped off by a limo and can toss your sable in the back seat, you're stuck with a winter coat or wrap. Don't get me started on Coat Check Hell, the stuff of ball legends. Lost coats, mislaid coats, endless lines, overwhelmed staff. But then, it's not safe to throw your coat in a corner, either. Basically, you're stuck.

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