Reliving the Art of Parties, One Page at a Time

A former party reporter waxes nostalgic on his days spent at glamorous events—and how books about parties are filling the void during the pandemic.

by Isiah Magsino

Photos via Getty Images. Animation by Maridelis Morales Rosado for W Magazine.

I watched the Sex and the City movies for the first time last week. Despite Carrie’s insufferable melodrama, I thought the theatrical affair was quite enjoyable and I found myself relating deeply to one particular moment in the sequel: Big and Carrie are in some heated argument about Big wanting to stay home and Carrie wanting to make an appearance at a movie premiere. “You want to go out to get pushed and shoved and eat bad catered food?” asks Big, to which Carrie replies: “Yes. Yes, I’m dying to be pushed and shoved in a crowd and eat bad catered food.”

I, like Carrie, am desperate for a good soirée (without the pushing and shoving part). The clinking of champagne flutes, the outrageous peacocking, the table politicsjust a quick dip back into this seemingly lost art form would cure all my woes incited by this past year. I even miss the mindless chatter! To talk about absolutely nothing of substance is something that I used to hate but now desperately crave. To satisfy that craving, I revisit these very physical moments in my dreams. But in the real world, I’ve settled on a temporary antidote within the antithesis of these parties: reading books about parties. I find these classic books by typing “novels about high society” into my Google search bar—turns out, they come second best to the lived occurrence, while still lifting my spirits just a bit. Although they’re not necessarily always about parties, they ultimately contain the same absent elements: gossipy whispers, glamorous clothes, and campy fun.

The first book that began to cure my woes bit by bit was actually written by none other than W’s founding father, John Fairchild. His 1989 novel, Chic Savages, transported me into the arena of Wasp-y dirty laundry and informed me of the hidden codes of the ultra-wealthy. In a very Fairchild fashion, nothing was considered off-limits—including the recollection of WWD’s 1971 review on Yves Saint Laurent’s Rive Gauche collection (it was...not positive) and drama with the Kennedys and Kissingers. Perhaps the best bit in the book is the birth of Fairchild’s “Ins and Outs list” in which he served as the gatekeeper of the elite from that era. The list dictated everything from which places were chic to donate (Metropolitan Museum and New York Public Library) and which members of society were a part of the in-crowd and ultimately, invited to the scene-y events. Interestingly, he even notes how Donald Trump is on the “out” list because of his incessant need to “promote himself” but Ivana, his wife at the time, was “in” because she spoke “frankly about everything, including herself.”

There’s certainly more excitement to parties and events than those already in the scene. In Melanie Benjamin’s 2015 novel, The Swans of Fifth Avenue, writer Truman Capote takes center stage. While most consider Capote a legendary author, his friend group of high-society women, which included American socialite Babe Paley, considered him more like a brother. The gay friend. With all the described blurred nights accompanied by stupid fun, Babe Paley’s mist of beauty and flamboyant outfits for luncheons, how can one not miss any sort of social gathering? While the story is adorned with these lighthearted moments, the overarching theme details Capote’s desperation for an advanced social status, which ultimately led to the tragic end of his friendship with Paley. Though I certainly can’t relate to that, this over-the-top drama was, I hate to say, soothing. In a post-quarantine world, this would be followed with “I can’t believe this is a big deal.” But now, in a seemingly stagnant era, I’m more than glad that it is. Kaitlin Phillips, a present-day publicist and previous party reporter for The Cut, is no stranger to poking fun at social climbers. But does she miss it as much as I do? “Nobody likes a party reporter,” she tells W. “I don't miss making enemies every time I go out, no.” (The morning after our talk, she asked in a tweet, “Should I start party reporting again?”)

Of course, other places are catering to a longing for social events and parties, too. Netflix seems to feel the same, as series like Bridgerton and documentaries about the hyper-political family ordeals in the Royal Family of Windsor are available to stream. While we can’t even experience nightlife vicariously through others’ social media accounts (unless they’re living in Australia), these methods are offering a glimpse into a missed past.

Are there bigger issues than missing parties? One thousand percent. But I think it would be naive to ignore the fabulously orchestrated part of life that seems so natural. We are, after all, social creatures. During a time of endless doomscrolling on Twitter and living through constant historical moments, I can’t help but miss the days of being worried about little things such as where I’m sitting at dinner or whether or not I abide by the dress codes of the evening. As I continue to sit patiently awaiting the day when social gatherings are safe again, I wonder if packed ballrooms will forever be a thing of the past. Perhaps, one of the greatest lessons learned in this pandemic is that none of those things truly matter at the end of the day. But, I still miss them, anyway.