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Survival Guide To The Social Season

Before you get inundated with invites to all the upcoming benefits and galas, take a peek at our locals-only party primer. From getting red-carpet ready to cocktail convo etiquette, we got the skinny from seven friends who are entrenched in the Greenwich philanthropic circuit. Who better to help navigate any event with style, grace and a dash of good humor?

Alease Fisher Tallman

Close Causes

“When my kids were growing up, I got involved with chairing events for Brunswick School. Now I’m particularly involved as a board member of the Greenwich Historical Society. I especially like the programs they do for school children. I think it helps to give the next generation a sense of perspective in a world that moves so rapidly.”

Favorited Fete

“The Black and White Ball for the Bruce Museum, designed by Richard Keith Langham awhile back, was just breathtaking. There was a grand black-and-white striped tent and a huge chandelier made for the center of the dance floor with rich red shades that gave everyone a glow. Langham cleverly disguised the tent poles by transforming them into dramatic palm trees—the fronds were made out of very large black ostrich feathers and were so striking.”

Fashion 101

“I love a combination of high/low. Everything you put on needs to work for you, from the cut to the length. A slightly higher arm hole is slenderizing. Most of the dresses I design have pockets, which are slimming because when your hand is in it, you’ve hidden your entire hip.”

Makeup Must

“Never use sparkle. It’s not good on old skin or young skin. It looks like you are trying too hard. Softer colors are always better. Also, I have two signature shades of lipstick and carry them in my purse all the time.”

Photo Op

“Stand slightly to the side rather than meeting the camera head-on. If you have a glass in your hand, try to put it down. If you’re self-conscious about your arms, slip them behind the person next to you. Don’t put your hand on your hip—because who walks around with a hand on her hip? It looks unnatural.”

Southern Charm

“Southerners are known for honoring their friends and making their guests feel comfortable. If you are hosting an event, cook at least one thing yourself. It shows your guests you went to more trouble than just making some calls to caterers. And don’t be intimidated by size—it’s easier to host a large group than a small one, where every detail has to be perfect.”

Best Bites

“For a cocktail party, sometimes humble hors d’oeuvres are a welcome relief from overly thought-out fare. We often serve bite-sized grilled cheese sandwiches late in the evening. They’re simple and honest, and there’s no need for truffle oil. We never have any left over.”

Seating Savvy

“My best tip for setting up anything, no matter how you set up your tables, is to have place cards and give some thought to who is seated together. Guests will feel more comfortable and grounded.”

Handsome Help

“I always hire male models from Choice Productions in Manhattan to be bartenders for my parties. It makes everyone happy and husbands don’t mind! I also rely on John Dent’s Parking Productions for valet parking. Be really kind to the wait staff. They’re in your home, and as the host, you’re responsible for their happiness too.”

Social Graces

“A party is only as entertaining as the people who attend. Show up to the party with your best guest face and make a contribution of wit and wisdom. The memories you have of events are the human connections made.”

Damage Control

“Once, my mantle decorations caught fire during a party, so we threw some glasses of club soda on it. These things happen, and it won’t do any good to worry about it. It’s not the last party, just another lovely evening. You might as well relax!”

Alyssa Keleshian Bonomo

Close Causes

“I grew up going to the Bruce Museum. We are fortunate to have a world-class art and science gem in Greenwich, and I feel a responsibility to support our town treasures. The Red Cross does an outstanding job, and I am grateful for its services and enjoy celebrating its achievements at the annual ball. I also never miss the Breast Cancer Alliance, Fund for Women and Girls and Reach Prep luncheons, all important initiatives for women and children.”

Favorite Fete

“The Bruce Museum’s 2013 Renaissance Ball’s Fly Me to the Moon gala with a rocking band that had me dancing all night long.”

Family Fun

“I love the Greenwich Town Party. How lucky are we that a resident created a summer fair that brings together our entire community for a giant party for every age group? Preserving our land is also critical and ‘Go Wild’ is a really fun outdoor event for the whole family.”

Fashion 101

“When you aren’t sure what to wear, go to your back issues of Greenwich magazine or log onto Fairfield County Look to see what people wore to the event the year prior. But be your own judge. At five-foot-one, I wear short dresses to every black tie...it works for me.”

Local Love

“I always shop downtown Greenwich for any party. It’s important to visit the retailers who donate to the charities you attend, shop their stores and thank them for supporting our important causes.”

Best Bidding

“At the Boys and Girls Club benefit, I won the ‘Heads and Tails’ prize, a six-bedroom Wimco Villa in St. Barts.”

Table Talk No-No's

“Politics, religion and private school acceptance letters.”

Social Savvy

“I enjoy introducing people to new acquaintances at events. I’ll give a quick ‘elevator pitch’ on each person. It gives them easy talking points and helps them find commonalities.”

Game Time

“At a recent dinner party, the host did something really fun. Instead of place cards, she had a photo of a celebrated person at each setting. You had to guess who she thought you would be most like.” 

With Gradtitude

“Whether it’s a dinner for eight or a party for sixty, I always call the host and say thank you, or send a handwritten note. If I am too impatient for snail mail, I send a thank-you note from Paperless Post. You can create personal stationery that is attractive and, more important, the note is received instantly!”

Dancing Queen

“I’m a seventies girl, so I’ll always get up for Donna Summer’s ‘Last Dance’.”

Jieun Wax

Close Causes

“I started volunteering with my three therapy dogs, helping children with special needs through A Good Dog Foundation. Through that, a friend invited me to help with the YWCA domestic abuse services, which is how I joined the board and went from cochairing the Old Bags Luncheon raffle committee to cochairing the event for two years. I love fashion and believe in affordable education, so I am on the board of FIT’s Couture Council. I will be chairing the annual luncheon this September honoring Michael Kors.”

Favorite Fete

“The Old Bags Luncheon. When I cochaired the event the past two years, I acted as if every guest was a personal friend coming to my home. This year I suggested that the party favors should be four colors of pashminas. During the lunch, we asked everyone who had a purple pashmina tied to their chair to stand (purple symbolizes domestic violence). One in four women stood up, which was a powerful way to get the message across that one in four women is affected.”

Fashion 101

“Instead of buying an established designer’s gown, I’ll support up-and-coming talent. A few years ago I met a young designer, Fabiola Arias, and was so impressed, I helped her launch her line at Neiman Marcus. I own the same dress in blue, green, lavender and yellow and became her ambassador at events. I’m happy when I can connect a new designer to a charity, so I donated one of her gowns at the Avon Theatre Gala.”

Nude Attitude

“I’m five-foot-three and like to wear a neutral shoe—my favorite is Jimmy Choo—to elongate my leg. To add a tanned look to my legs, I wear Fogal fine fishnet pantyhose. They create an amazing illusion to hide paleness.”

Contact Chic

“I made personalized calling cards that I bring to events. I’m very good about following up, so even though I give the card, I always get the other person’s information and reach out the next day. If we don’t connect, at least I tried. Greenwich is small, yet many times at an event someone fabulous comes along who makes me wish I met her five years ago.’”

Dinner Dos

“I broke my ankle last winter and couldn’t be out with my cast and crutches, so I hosted four dinner parties at home...on my scooter! Veal chop is the easiest thing to make because it is forgiving. When it is cooked to medium everyone is appeased, whereas people eat steak at different levels of doneness. For a parting gift, each guest took home a Cattleya orchid from our table arrangement, which was a fun surprise in the middle of February.”

Seating Savvy

“I try to make sure people’s personalities are complementary. I don’t seat two extroverted people together, because they will be competing for airtime. Shy people and outgoing people are a great match, because one likes talking and the other enjoys listening. Everyone’s happy.”

Chat Etiquette

“At events, I try never to bring up things that other people aren’t included in, such as a party that only a few of us attended the weekend before. It’s important to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone is included in everything all the time. In your conversation, make sure that everyone feels part of it.”

Driving Range

“My husband and I have been married for ten years. I’m social and my husband is a little shy, so at events I arrive early and leave late, and he arrives late and leaves early. We know how to compromise. He’s generous and says, ‘always two cars!’”

With Gratitude

"A close friend invited sixty people for a birthday party and took the time to thank every single person for the role they played in her life. It was just a few sentences about each of us shared throughout the dinner, with time in between for eating and drinking. It was a beautiful way to celebrate life and friends."

Jean Doyen De Montaillou

Close Causes

“When my partner Michael Kovner and I moved here from the city, we felt so welcomed by the Bruce Museum and wound up making many close friends through its events. For such a small town, it’s incredible what diversity the museum has in its programs. I also support The Avon Theatre and BAPZ (Beat AIDS Project Zimbabwe), started by a Greenwich doctor. In this town, if you give, it will give so much back to you.”

Favorite Fete

“The Indian-themed Renaissance Ball years ago held at Thomas Peterffy’s private estate. I loved the colors, the creative outfits and costumes in the Indian theme, and the foods with an exotic accent.”

Fashion 101

“More men should stick to the classic and simple. I’ve seen plaid sport coats with striped ties...it is like a clown without a circus! Buy navy blazers and gray pants of different shades and weights, along with khakis. Match your tie by pulling in a color from your shirt or your sport coat. And remember, real men wear pink.”

Juggling Act

“When you are chairing an event, it’s a marriage a trois: you, your partner and the charity. All three of you are in the relationship, and your partner has to sacrifice time with you for months, even a year, while you’re planning an event. I couldn’t do all I do without Michael’s support.”

Sip Tip

“I don’t drink during cocktail hour, but on the rare occasions that I do, I ask for two ice cubes in a champagne glass. It keeps the champagne cold and dilutes it so you don’t get tipsy. My friend Natalie Pray taught me that, although I’d be guillotined in France for doing it!”

Mad For Plaid

“My favorite outfit I ever wore to an event was a kilt to the Avon Ball in honor of the James Bond theme last February. I love it when you’re not restricted to black tie. People get more excited to get dressed.”

Photo Op

“Men usually freeze in photos because they’re not relaxed. I never liked myself in photographs until a very well known social photographer gave me some advice: Do “the turtle.” Relax your shoulders and put your head a little bit forward. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Table Talk

“I was taught growing up to treat everyone at the table the same, whether you’re sitting with a farmer or a king. Always be polite. If you’re seated next to someone you don’t like or don’t care to talk to, introduce them to the person to their left or right. They may not know each other well enough not to like each other.”

Dancing Do

“Men who make an effort to dance, even if they’re not terrific dancers, get an A-plus for trying. It’s all about making your partner happy. If you never get up, sign up for a dance class.”

Bad Vibrations

“Unless you’re a doctor on call, at nighttime events you shouldn’t be a slave to your Blackberry. If you have a babysitter, put your phone on vibrate and instruct them to call only in an emergency. Otherwise, don’t check up on them.”

Rachel Franco

Close Causes

“Ten years ago my husband and I assisted in founding the Greenwich Point Conservancy, which has become a real passion for us. We had the first meeting of the conservancy at our home. The GPC Beach Ball was held at the Belle Haven Club for the first few years, and eventually we got permission from the town to hold it on the bluff at Tod’s Point for 450-500 guests annually. I met my husband at Greenwich Point and we raised our family there, so it’s a special place for us.”

Favorite Fete

“We go to a lot of events and they’re all wonderful. But my favorite really is the Beach Ball—it’s such a unique experience to be out on that spectacular site on the Point in the evening. By taking the short ride in a golf cart with your rum punch up to the bluff, which overlooks the beach and the Manhattan skyline, you actually feel the weight falling off your shoulders. It’s also fun to see people in the summer you might not otherwise see until [fall].”

Fashion 101

“I love how during summer, dressing can be more relaxed. White pants and a really cute top or a sundress are my favorites. If you’re not a big pattern person, stick to a simple pattern or a solid. You can never go wrong with navy, and pair it with a fun pashmina or colorful jewelry. For shoes, I’m most comfortable in Lily wedges and Jack Rogers.”

Seating Strategy

“Seating is key. For the Beach Ball, we make a big effort to know who is coming and to put together fun and cohesive tables. I try to tell people beforehand who they’re sitting with, and we also sometimes make adjustments, as I find it makes people feel more comfortable and welcome and again, a key for us is that everyone has fun. If they know at least one person they are sitting with ahead of time, it makes a difference in their night.”

Chat Etiquette

“At a big event, people tend to bounce from person to person. Five to ten minutes is an appropriate time to focus on one conversation. When you need to move things along, you can say, ‘It was really great talking to you. I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening.’ It caps off your chat and gives you a graceful exit.”

Mingling Mo

“When you walk into an event and don’t know many people at the party, don’t panic. If you can’t find the people you’re seated with at your table, you can head to the silent auction tables and look around, or go over to the information table to learn about the organization, so you’re not standing there feeling lost.”

Dinner Dos

“With dinner menus it’s sometimes tempting to go fancy and ‘froufrou,’ but I think people like traditional good food. I have one friend who I use as my litmus test. I ask myself if he would eat it and think it’s a good choice to serve. Think of one person you know who is a basic eater and use him or her as your guide. Keep it simple.”

Sweet Surprise

“I love passed dessert hors d’oeuvres like cheesecake pops or mini ice cream cones. It encourages people to get up from their tables and move around a bit. It’s more fun and gets people on their feet to mingle and dance after sitting through a long dinner.”

Dance Moves

“Everyone gets up to dance to ‘Shout.’ Another way to get people dancing is to hold a ‘Heads and Tails’ game after the live auction, where people are called up to the dance floor. After the game ends, the crowd really gets moving.”

Damage Control

“At the first Beach Ball we held at Tod’s Point, our generator broke during the cocktail hour. It was unnerving since the entire event was dependent on the generator, but we were able to scramble and quickly bring a new one in from New Jersey so that everything was fixed by dinner. Thankfully, our steel drum band was not dependent on the generator, and they played the whole time so no one noticed a thing. Since then, we’ve stuck to a steel drum band during cocktails every year, and we always have a backup generator on site.”

Shelly Tretter Lynch

Close Causes

“I am on the board of directors of the YWCA and cochaired the Persimmon Ball this past spring. I feel so strongly about the YWCA because through this event we are truly servicing the community and helping to stop domestic violence. For the past two years, I also cochaired Great Chefs in support of Community Health at Greenwich Hospital, which provides wellness services, health screenings, support groups and education programs to Fairfield and Westchester counties.”

Favorite Fete

“Carolyn Crabtree’s Dom Perignon and Ferrari party at Northwood, her backcountry home. It was beautiful to drive up and see the Ferraris lined up in front of the stone manor. My husband test drove one, then we sipped Dom Perignon inside and enjoyed a sit-down dinner for fifty. It was all so elegant.”

Fashion 101

“I don’t wear frills or bright colors. I always feel more comfortable in a long dress, something that adds a little glamour of yesteryear. I tend to go for black or navy, classic and understated. For me, less is more.”

Makeup Must

“I try to look as natural as possible and am always working, so it’s hair by Shelly and makeup by Shelly. I’m just not a red lipstick person and don’t have a done-up look. I might get a manicure.”

Pointer Sister

“I don’t eat appetizers during the cocktail hour for one reason: I don’t like chewing while I’m talking. If the person talking to me has spinach in her teeth, I’m going to tell her. I’m kind of known for doing that. We women need to look out for each other!”

Mingling Mo

“I’ve been in real estate for twenty years and a lot of my friends are clients and are social, so deals can happen during events. I was at a NYC fundraiser and told a friend about a property. He drove out to Greenwich the next morning and papers were signed that evening.”

Tech Truth

“My Blackberry is totally inappropriate but totally necessary. I don’t look at it in the middle of an event or set it on the table, but I check it in the bathroom. It’s also great for exchanging contact info at the end of the night. Besides, a mother can never be too far from communication.”

Seating Savvy

“Once we invited a bunch of couples for two tables at an event. My husband and I sat at different tables so one table wouldn’t feel less important. Splitting up couples’ seating changes the dynamic and is healthy for everyone. If you cling to your spouse all night, you might as well be going out to dinner by yourselves.”

Party Hopping

“When I need to attend a number of events in one night, I think less about what makes sense geographically and more about what part of each event is the most important, and prioritize that way. You want to be at each place at the most relevant point.”

With Gratitude

“When friends text me a thank you the day after an event, it makes me feel good because I’m still in the moment. I think it’s better to just get the message out than a week later in the mail. A kind gesture is a kind gesture.”

Damage Control

“When I cochaired Great Chefs this year, we set up a tent for 500 people two days before. Then major winds kicked up and tore the tent to pieces. Something like that stops you dead in your tracks. But we got a new tent up the day of the event, and it wound up being their most successful one yet.”

Sue Baker

Close Causes

“I taught marine biology and honors oceanography at Greenwich High School for twenty-five years, so even though I served on a number of boards, I didn’t have as much time to devote to the environment, conservation, ecology and the arts as I would have liked. These days I am on the Conservation Commission for the Town of Greenwich, the Shellfish Commission, Greenwich Tree Conservancy, Greenwich Land Trust, Greenwich Point Conservancy and SoundWaters. I’m also on the boards of the Avon Theatre and the English Speaking Union, League of Women Voters and Greenwich Symphony Orchestra.”

Favorite Fete

“Good lord. I’ve lived here over forty-five years. There are thousands of them!”

Behind The Scenes

“I once spent three days at Diana Ross’ house in Belle Haven. I was with Kyle Silver, director of the Arch Street Teen Center, preparing for Diana’s graduation night concert at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park. Her great room was like Mead Hall! She was very petite with a great figure and racks of extravagant clothes and flowing costumes. I spent so much time there, I almost missed the Greenwich High School graduation and had to have a policeman escort me down the Post Road in my cap and gown. One of my students saw me with the cop and yelled, ‘Be sure to bring her bread and water.’”

Fashion 101

“Don’t wear anything that you can’t get through the night in. If I’m walking to a cocktail party in my extended neighborhood, I’ll go in my Merrells. I take a flashlight and put my shoes and flashlight in the neighbor’s mailbox, then change into heels before I walk in.”

Escort Etiquette

“If you are single and bring a friend as an escort to a party, as I do on occasion, pick someone who likes to dance and participate in the party. It doesn’t have to be someone everyone knows. Buy their ticket, or at least offer to. It’s a double bonus, because you’ve donated twice to the organization."

Animal Instinct

“The craziest costume I ever wore to an event was a Diane von Furstenberg orange-and-white giraffe print wrap top and matching pants, with a giant giraffe head. It was quite a conversation starter.”

Social Graces

“Dinner party etiquette is truly important. When you put your arm on the table to talk to the person on your left, you’ve blocked the person on your right. I consider the people seated on both sides of me to be my dinner partners, and I don’t leave them hanging. If I notice someone across the table who is being ignored, I’ll shout out something that will get them involved in the conversation. Be brazen!”

Memorable Meal

“At the Hunt Ball for the Greenwich Riding and Trails Association, there was the most delicious smoked trout, venison carpaccio, pheasant and stuffed figs. The food was perfectly appropriate for the theme of honoring the wilderness and open space. It wasn’t too safe. All the kudos go to the chef at Greenwich Country Club who wasn’t afraid to run with a theme.”

Party Pet Peeve

“What makes me angry are people who do not honor the hostess and move their place cards all around. It is really annoying. The hostess had a plan.”

Best Surprise

“Delivering Steve Young, the starting quarterback for the 49ers and a Greenwich High alum, to the Greenwich High football team’s locker room before their big homecoming game. When they saw him standing in the door, they were speechless. Steve was in town as the honoree for the Arch Street Teen Center Champion of Teens Benefit that I was chairing, and I thought I could do anything I wanted!”