I just finished Dorothy Draper’s original 1941 version of Entertaining is Fun! How to Be A Popular Hostess, a book I stumbled across while doing library research on redecorating my apartment – and thought “Ooh, I think I’m a popular hostess.” 🙂
Draper was primarily an accomplished decorator, and her works include the Carlyle Hotel and the dining room at the MET, both in New York. This one is a sequel to her book Decorating is Fun! How to Be Your Own Decorator.
She carried her innate sense of visual style and taste into her “entertaining,” a word that seems to have grown out of date, but basically includes throwing parties, hosting guests, and in general, being social and fun instead of giving into what Draper has dubbed the “will to be dreary,” or, our tendency to shy away from something new and bold while we cling to the faded curtains of same-old same-old daily life (and various degrees of Social Anxiety Disorder).
In case you couldn’t tell by the cover, the author is in favor of a pink, polka-dotted world, one where women take charge of their space (and their social lives) by turning front closets into impromptu powder rooms and fold-out bars, while men are busy wrapping their hands around “big, man-sized sandwiches” and sending over a flower for his lady to wear when they go out that night.
It is an idyllic world of brass door knockers and garden clubs – but the message of the book shines through all the nostalgia: in Draper’s view, the lack of money is a poor excuse not to party.
She conjures up images of warm, candlelit affairs that can be had at any price, whether it’s cheese, beer and charades or a full-blown Austrian harvest feast complete with live music and elaborate costumes.
Although some of the themes are out-of-date, the idea that you can make something out of nothing is electrifying. You CAN have a cocktail party in your one-room studio. You CAN have window boxes and a picnic in front of your your trailer-house. The basic message is clear: get up, get going, and throw a party already!
Another strong takeaway is to be thoughtful of others. All you really need to do to be a successful friend is to enjoy providing for others, to listen to and therefore be inspired by the people you bring into your life, and to add your personal touch to all the thoughtful little details.
Despite all this good cheer and love, I do need to make a disclaimer for anyone who decides to pick up this book. It was written almost 70 years ago. There are shocking references to negro entertainers and Cherokee raiders. I read passages aloud to people over the past few weeks, and always got a strong reaction. Some thought it was brilliant, others found it sexist and insulting. I think that the reason I was able to enjoy it was by taking on the outdatedness with a grain of salt.
But is a deep dish blueberry pie of a book, and you don’t want to miss out on all its sweet jems because of a few sour specks.