THE COCKTAIL PARTY is a perfectly dreadful social event, and Miss Manners was planning to ignore it in the hope that it would go away. However, while Miss Manners is impervious to the charms of mixed drinks, stuffed eggs and the conversation they inspire, she suddenly finds herself being seduced by the new cocktail hats.

There is nothing new about the new cocktail hats, of course. After half an hour in the attic, Miss Manners produced three tiny confections of velvet and veiling, just right for perching on the forehead, at an angle as precarious as possible without the hat's tumbling down onto the nose, in the very latest style.

That was easy. The question with which Miss Manners has been struggling is whether the cocktail party is a necessary prerequisite for the cocktail hat. In order to have the pleasure of wearing a cocktail hat, is it necessary to endure the trial of attending the cocktail party?

It is, after all, not only Miss Manners who dislikes cocktail parties. People who give them profess to dislike them; they invite lots of people they dislike enough to avoid inviting to dinner; and the people who attend them all stand around telling one another that they hate cocktail parties.

So, sparing herself some pain (Miss Manners is a dedicated researcher on your behalf, but no martyr), Miss Manners chose a pleasant gathering for her experiment - one that had the cocktail party characteristics of being a late afternoon gathering in which several people stood up, but not the usual offensive attributes of being held on a weekday during the dinner hour.

Now, Miss Manners is quite aware that nobody wears cocktail dresses to cocktail parties. For some years now, it has become quite unfashionable to lead a life in which you are at liberty to go home and change your clothes at five in the afternoon. It leads to being thought of as not serious, enterprising or sufficiently sensitive to the general human plight. Therefore, Miss Manners was not surprised to see the other guests in turtleneck sweaters and tweeds this was on a Sunday afternoon last winter.Miss Manner being able as the result of a fall visit to Paris, to do her homework early. She was unpleasantly surprised to find them not acting surprised to see her with black veiling on her nose, apparently choosing politely to assume that she had been at some sort of flashy funeral.

But that - the question of when to notice, as well as when to ignore, another person's looking strange - is another story. The point on which Miss Manners satisfied herself by this endeavor was that the cocktail hat will probably never belong at the cocktail party, let alone that one must attend a cocktail party in order to wear a cocktail hat.

The question that remains is: Where may the new cocktail hats be correctly worn? Mind you, we are talking about cocktail hats, not hat-hats, which are a more substantial item having to do with larger dimensions and felt, and which Miss Manners also hopes to be welcoming back one day.

Miss Manners is not willing to condone cocktail hats being worn with either daytime or evening clothes, both of which mistakes she has observed in the merchandising of these hats. And since we have already dismissed the cocktail dress as being without redeeming social purpose, this doesn't leave much, does it?

It leaves a certain type of suit, variously known as the dinner suit, the theater suit or the little suit. Or the little theater suit or the little dinner suit. "Little" is a refined way of calling attention to how expensive something is, as in "my little dressmaker" or "our little place in the mountains." The little suit is usually modestly slim and dark and hideously expensive.

This may be worn, oddly enough to a restaurant or theater, and the cocktail hat may be worn with it to these places. Do not worry about the cocktail hat's blocking anybody's view at the theater. It is too small and too strategically placed to blind anyone, except, of course, the person who is wearing it.