I love parties. Getting an evite or that rare old-school paper invite in the mail is exciting. It always feels good to be included.
Most parties these days are casual. If a dress code is mentioned, it typically says “Saturday Night Snazzy” or something else implying “Look Like You Give a Shit,” but anything goes.
But, getting the rare “Cocktail Party Attire” invite used to cause me great anxiety and stress. With an invisible physical disability, I have worries most people never even think about. What will I wear that will cover my AFOs? How long will I have to stand in place? Will they even have a sit down dinner? How will I hold a plate and a drink?
Maybe it’s age or planning ahead, but I don’t stress as much anymore.
Here are my top tips for cocktail party survival:
1. Have two cocktail options.
The LBD (little black dress) classic cocktail party dress is not easy if you wear any sort of orthotic. I find fall and winter easier as I can pair some styles of dresses with tall boots over my braces. Some of you may not be able to do this. It’s important to have seasonal cocktail attire outfits you feel great in. Jumpsuits are great but can be hard to get in and out of. A pair of wide leg crepe pants and a fitted top in the same color can mimic the look of a jumpsuit. This is a great option for both winter and summer events. I also love a silk maxi dress in the summer. I wore one to a wedding this past summer that called for “cocktail attire.” It is by Jill Stuart and I found it for $89 on Amazon.
2. Be late.
Most parties have an appetizer hour. If you have a disability and trouble standing, this can feel like an eternity.
When possible (bad idea if it’s your sister’s wedding) arrive about 30 minutes after the start time. Most people do this anyhow. But if you’re a perpetually on-time, always the one waiting for others kind of person like me, you need to schedule your late arrival. This will cut the appetizer hour in half and provide just enough mingling time.
3. Scan the room for balance options.
Whenever I go to a mostly standing event, I do a quick room inventory. Are there any cocktail tables set-up? Posts to lean against? Where’s the bar? If the venue lacks hi-tops or beams to casually hold onto or lean against, I make a beeline to the bar where most people usually congregate and subtly use it to lean on.
I note the venue floor. Carpeting = woo-hoo! Good. Wooden floors = crap! Slippery bad. I will remind my amazing supportive husband that when it feels like I’m grabbing his arm for dear life, I probably am.
4. Pick alcohol or food.
For those of us who have balance challenges when stone cold sober, alcohol is obviously not our friend. Some people abstain from alcohol because they take medications and/or because it can worsen their condition. If this is you, enjoy your little hotdogs in a blanket and skip to #5.
It’s difficult for even non-balance challenged people to hold a cocktail in one hand and a finger size appetizer or small plate in another. So if you have a balance issue, why even try? I choose an appetizer or a drink, not both.
Since my fine motor skills suck and I tend to drop more food on me than I actually eat , I choose to have a drink and plan ahead and by eating a bowl of cereal before leaving the house. I ask the bartender to put whatever I order in a tall (never that evil hard to hold stem) glass. I get it on the rocks with half soda water which has the double benefit of fall prevention and extra calorie retention.
5. Interested is interesting.
As the night wears on, standing becomes more and more uncomfortable. It’s important to lay the groundwork early in the evening that will ensure you won’t be sitting in a corner alone by the end of the night.
Since dancing on tables is not appropriate (or possible), bring the party to you with the power of great communication skills. People love talking about themselves. If you see someone walk by with beautiful eyes or a fabulous dress on, be sure to tell them.
Give sincere compliments, make good eye contact, and ask open-ended questions. Even ooh and ahh at their kids photos. If all else fails, ask the waiter to bring a round of shots!
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Photo provided by contributor.