What She Wants

Etiquette for Formal Affairs: The Truly Rich Lady's Guide To Attending a Ball

What to do when you see someone wearing the same dress, you bump into your ex, or the waiter spills wine on your couture (and your cleavage).

There is unusual chatter about balls at the moment, so it might be a good time to dig up the quick-and-dirty rules of attending a formal event. Whether a grand ceremony of countless beautiful faces (the last good one I attended was held at an old airport—for a Truly Rich Couple's anniversary) or a smaller affair of 500, the main thing to remember is this: Don’t make a fool of yourself.

Your ex is here.

Omigod! I mean, shut up. The rules of decorum require that you greet him or her, but if you cannot will yourself to say, “Hello, it’s me,” without unleashing a tremor in your voice or a tear from your left eye, then avoid. Place the bodies of 1,000 guests between you and your ex. If your encounter is unavoidable, there is no choice but to engage in mind-blowing small talk. Maybe you will reconnect. (Stop me, please!)

Someone else is wearing the same dress.

Well, after firing your personal shopper, you have to acknowledge it. The cool thing to do is to celebrate the serendipitous moment. Remark to all who see the twinning looks about how their wearers have excellent taste. And then, take a photo with your doppelganger to make it appear that you are unbothered. But make sure you have better hair and makeup.

The waiter spilled red wine all over your couture (and your cleavage).

First, do not get angry. Second, quiet the hubbub at your table by saying that you are fine. Then, excuse yourself and head to the nearest powder room, where you can unleash a silent scream or, really, call for help. Assistant will retrieve the spare dress, the one you keep in the car for emergencies such as wine. If there is no emergency couture, pretend this is a wearable Pollock.


It’s an open bar.

I have a rule: OUIAHD. Or Only Until I Am Happily Dizzy. Yes, this is the time to let your hair down (well, not really because your hair person has turned it into a helmet), but it’s not the time to shout at the top of your lungs how you’re still in love with your ex (see above) while undoing the snaps of your vintage gown. There is that sweet spot between floating in a haze and dancing half-naked on the table. Get there and stop. Or get there, take a pause, and pick it up again later.

You have no invitation.

Uh, don’t go. Gatecrashing is a desperate move that will devastate your social stock. Equally gross is digging around for an invite. I know of a misguided offspring, from one of the oldest last names in the country, who once threw a fit when her besties received an invite to Glossy Party of the Year, while she (the least known among them) was left in the dust. She whined and complained and pressured a higher power to “please get an invite, please!” That older power, in her wiseness and oldness, of course, did not oblige. Last I heard of her is never. She’s not important. 

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C.C. Coo
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