Unlike New York, you don't have to arrange a slugfest between celebrities at your party to get noticed; in Washington, propriety is the company way. Unlike Los Angeles, how you arrive at a party doesn't matter; in this burg, it's what you do, not what you drive. Embassy parties, private parties, congressional parties, promotion parties, opening parties, victory parties . . . oh, we have parties here. Chew with your mouth closed, don't crack your knuckles, and you can dine out in Washington until you expire from Vienna sausage overload.
Don't worry about dress; arriving at an informal gathering in a black tie gives one the appearance of having more important places to be. And if accompanied by the proper aplomb, a corduroy sport coat at a swanky affair confers upon the wearer the devil-may-care, self-assured look so rare in Washington, particularly at post-election gatherings where some guests face uncertin futures.
But if you can get away with the big things, you must attend to the detils if you hope to stand out from what Evelyn Waugh once described as "that succession and repetition of massed humanity . . . those vile bodies" that are parties. Details.
Herewith, some notes on Getting It Right. THE RULE: In Washington, anything that has to do with Hollywood is considered more important than almost anything that has to do with politics, excepting inaugurations.
The very chic party is the movie premiere party -- especially if it's the opening of your movie. When "Urban Cowboy," the film based on Aaron Latham's Esquire magazine article, was released last summer, Latham feted friends at a poolside Texas-style barbecue in downtown Washington. Then it was out to a theater to watch His Movie.
Perhaps you aren't writing a script. That's okay, too, It's just as acceptable to host a private screening of a flick, as Bob "All The President's Men" Woodward did for the new movie, "Ordinary People," directed by his friend, Robert Redford.
If you don't know Redford, get to know somebody who knows somebody. For example, the daughter-in-law of Washington public relations executive Jeanne Viner is actress Deborah Raffin, of Beverly Hills. Radio personality Tommy Curtis, formerly of Los Angeles, has family connections in the movies -- just ask him. Attorney Steve Martindale counts would-be actress Margaret Trudeau as a client. Motion Picture Association chief Jack Valenti knows everybody in film. Call up Jeanne, Tommy, Steve or Jack. Invite them to lunch. Chum around. Maybe someday they'll let you host a Washington premiere. THE RULE: Career moms who intend to invite adults to children's parties should consider the consequences.
It has becme fashionable for couples to postpone childbirth, what with the high cost of childrearing and the increase in the number of women pursuing careers. Nowadays a woman might not have her first child until she is in her mid-30s.
Once upon a time, a 3-year-old's birthday party was a predictable affair. A parent loaded the station wagon with little revelers, drove to a McDonald's or Farrell's, ordered a round of burgers and balloons and called it a party. Today the trendy, middleaged, career mom invites adults to her child's parties.
Not everyone likes this.
"If you just happen to be 35, single and without a kid," gripes one woman who is all of those things, "you want to kill yourself." THE RULE: Keep your party food up-to-date.
Cheesballs are out. Sorry to be so brutal about it, but there you have it. Untouched, cheeseballs might be considered things of beauty -- spheres with texture and fragrance. Then there's the promise of rough and smooth, the combination of nuts and cheese, if you happen to be contemplating Hickory Farm's best.
But let's face it, if three people attack a cheeseball it looks wounded, all gouged and pockmarked. Stick to simple, natural cheeses.
Little, red, slippery sausages have always been out, except at conventions of insurnce brokers in Columbus, Ohio, and certain congressional receptions best forgotten.
Crudites have survived the '70s, thanks to the continued strength of the "natural foods" movement. Pile on those jawbreaking clumps of raw cauliflower.
Anything wrapped in bacon is okay, now that it's safe to eat it again.
The cracker of the moment, as everyone knows, is the Triscuit, which is to the '80s what the Ritz cracker was to the '50s and '60s. Avoid crackers flavored with fish or chicken; they confuse the palate.
Very, very in is sushi, thin strips of raw fish wrapped around cold rice or other munchables. To serve this Japanese speciality, it is best to hire experts who will make sushi during the party. The food will be fresh, and your guests will be treated to a ballet of fingers as the delicacies are cut and shaped. THE RULE: Wear almost anything.
The happy dancers twirling in this picture aren't actually at a Washington party, but if you happen to want to dress as if you just arrived from an Alpine village celebration, well, it's okay in Washington. Simply explain that ever since Diana Vreeland gave her show featuring the costumes of the Hapsburgs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this year, you haven't been able to go anywhere without your little Austrian feather hat.
The very bold think nothing of affecting the Tyrolean look, with the help of velvet jackets or loden coats.This look replaces the '60s "peasant look." At best, you will resemble Austrian royalty. At worst, you'll be mistaken for a yodeler.
The preppy look sweeping the nation is no big deal in Washington because everyone here has always dressed preppy. High prep these days means a Ralph Lauren label. Brooks Brothers and the Georgetown University Shop continue to outfit the middle-of-the-road preppies.
This just in from Manhattan and Los Angeles: The Urban Cowboy look is very yesterday. Western food is still in, but hang up your fringed leather vests, your mother-of-pearl button shirts and cowboy hats. Sorry.
Designer jeans, in spite of the marketing overkill, are still acceptable but only because they fit most adults well.
Spearheaded by an expensive promotional effort at Bloomingdale's, the Chinese look is prospering. Women, you can't go wrong with Chinese quilted jackets, silk tunics or silk evening pants.
As always, you can never spend too much on lingerie. THE RULE: Sometimes the best things in life are free.
Quick, before autumn ends, run outside and pick up the hottest table centerpieces around. No, this is not a cheeseball. Same size, shape and texture, but this is a mock orange -- kids call it a smushball. It's a big green globe that drops from trees in the fall so children can roll them under car wheels.
We saw the first ones of the season used as a table decoration by a noted Washington media hostess in Cleveland Park. A few days later, smushballs were featured in the centerpieces at the Meridian House ball. And that made it official.
Footnote: Another natural table decoration idea was developed a few years ago by Countess Ulla Wachtmeister, wife of the Swedish ambassador. For a series of dinner parties she gave, Wachtmeister grew a stretch of lawn down the center of her long dining table, trimming the grass each morning with a pair of scissors. THE RULE: A party is where you want it.
This classic prenuptial breakfast took place in September 1977 at 5 a.m. next to the Reflecting Pool. The best man at the marriage of Penny Horsely of Bethesda to Fred Roboz of Alexandria surprised the bride and groom, picking them up in a 1966 Jaguar and whisking them to the catered affair. Candlelight, flowers and champagne accompanied the breakfast crepes.
Washington and its environs are filled with mansions and grand settings for parties. Your company can join the National Trust for Historic Preservation for $1,000 which entitles you to throw a party in a location such as the Decatur House on Farragut Square.
Or consider the dinner party thrown by the woman who makes a living arranging fancy parties for clients at a prominent Washington hotel. She set her private party in the middle of Georgetown's Pleasure Chest, a boutique that features erotic accouterments. It was a hit. THE RULE: Maybe the talk is of pyramids now, but some things are as old as the Republic.
Writing about state dinners at the turn of the century, Mrs. John A. Logan remarked that, "Many men officially entitled to White House dinner invitations are either not accomplished or are ill-adapted to the usages of good society . . . I have known persons famous for their conversational powers unable through a two-hour state dinner to elicit more than monosyllables from their partners, who were ill at ease, and no doubt heartily glad when the dinner was over."
In her book about Washington, Mary Clemmer Ames wrote in 1873 that, "Mike Walsh once horrified the shrinking and saintly Mrs. Franklin Pierce at a state dinner by the story of his going a-fishing on Sunday; while Hon. Mr. Mudsill, of Mudtown, has been known to regale dainty Madame Mimosa, of Mignonette Manor, between the courses, with his hatred of flummeries and French dishes, and his devotion to pork and beans and slapjacks." THE RULE: Don't leave bananas out where your guests might find them.