Party people: Derek Blasberg’s adult birthday party dos and don’ts
Welcome to Party People, our new series about how to plan, throw, and attend parties properly—as told by folk who know how to get down like it’s their job (and for some, it actually is!). From entertaining extraordinaires to A-list attendees, they’re divulging all the details on how to turn a so-so social situation into a can’t-miss carouse.
To kick things off, we caught up with a person known for both his endless bon mots and fabulous friends: Paperless Post design partner, bestselling author, and quintessential man about town Derek Blasberg. Having attended some of the fashion industry’s most fabulous events for the better part of two decades (and recently hosting his own recent 40th birthday bash), the New Yorker by way of Missouri is something of a specialist.
Below, Derek shares his advice for fêting an adult birthday like the grownup you are.
Image courtesy of Derek Blasberg; “Parental Rights” by Derek Blasberg for Paperless Post.
DO throw your own birthday party.
My mom always said if you want something done right, do it yourself.
DON’T drop weird hints about wanting a party, but DO respect your friends’ wishes.
I let horticulturists beat around the bush. Who has the time to hint at stuff? Of course, I would never demand someone throw a party for me or anyone else, but I’d like to think that I have close enough relationships with my friends and work colleagues that it’s easy to have honest conversations. And, by the way, my friends are close enough to me to tell me to forget about it. When I turned 40, I asked a friend if we could celebrate at her house and she told me she’d rather be a guest than a hostess at that party, which made sense to me.
DO spend time perfecting your guest list.
What elevates a so-so party to a fantastic one? Guest list, guest list, guest list. Invite a few odd balls or people from different friend groups. Also, good music, and never run out of booze.
DO match the guest list to the party.
If it’s an important birthday, like someone’s 40th, I’d say do a dinner for 40 people. That’s sweet. But if you’re young and wild, go big and blow the walls off the place. Parties should be a reflection of whomever you’re celebrating, which sounds obvious— but I used to always assume everyone wanted to rage for their birthday. Now that I’m an old man, I know to believe someone when they say they want something small.
DO go all out for seriously special occasions.
My 30th birthday was a super special moment for me. It was 2012, and we celebrated in my hometown, St. Louis, Missouri. My family has a barn and we converted it into a country western disco with banquettes made out of hay bales and a giant disco ball hanging from the rafters. Of course, I love a cowboy theme and moonshine. But what touched my heart—and continues to touch my heart every time I think about it—was that this was the first time my childhood crew met and interacted with the friends I made when I moved to New York. Seeing my family friends mingle with all my new big city kids on hay rides through the woods, sing-a-longs, a live country western band… The night peaked when my Aunt Mary, who was in her 70s, did a baton-twirling routine to a Lady Gaga remix from the Misshapes. Some of my family members, including Aunt Mary, have passed away since then, so that whole weekend remains a sweet memory.
DO send save the dates.
I love a save the date. Especially in a post-Covid world (which I think we’re in? maybe?), people are excited to go out and have fun, and schedules are getting packed. Hurry up and claim your dates, people!
DO invite people individually.
I hate mass emails, which is part of why I love Paperless Post invitations. No one is too busy to send out individual email invites or text messages. But! Group chats can be fun for follow up.
DON’T let guests know they’re on your B-list.
I’ll tell the truth here. I don’t do RSVP-by dates because it makes it harder to send late invitations to people that you forgot about. For example, I’ve received invites from people after the RSVP-by date, and I’m thinking, “I’m on your B list, aren’t I?”
DON’T put out place cards.
Unless it’s a super formal event, or you’re trying to set someone up, I typically don’t do place cards. People are nightmares. Seated dinners bring out the worst in even the closest of friends. Of course, unseated dinners make it harder for mingling and friend group cross pollination, which I love, but sometimes it’s just too much work. If you’re reading this, the next time you’re at a party, do your host a favor and make some new friends!
“Rock Out” by Derek Blasberg for Paperless Post; Image via Girls’ Life.
DO recognize when a theme has been done to death.
No more “Great Gatsby” parties. F. Scott Fitzgerald did not write that book for sorority girls to have an excuse to buy polyester headbands and plastic cigarette holders.
But DON’T be a theme party pooper.
I love a theme, but I hate people who make them mandatory. Weirdly, I also hate grumps who don’t at least try to attend to a theme. Just put on a silly hat or something, dude.
DO be an engaged conversationalist.
Honestly, it shouldn’t be that hard to have a conversation with someone. Pay attention, make eye contact, engage, ask questions, listen to the answers, and don’t look over someone’s shoulder at who else is in the room. I get asked all the time how to make friends at a party and my answer is always: Don’t be a dick. Can I say that on paperlesspost.com? It’s really that simple.
Image via Kristin Tieg; “Sup Dog” by Derek Blasberg for Paperless Post.
DO get everyone at the party talking.
I like when a dinner party has a single conversation. Barbara Walters used to do this: She’d come prepared with a single question and it’d go around the table and everyone would have to answer it. Recently, I was at a friend’s 80th birthday party and the question was, what’s one thing you’re worried about for the future, and one thing that gives you hope for the future? I was worried about guns because this country has such a messed up relationship with the Second Amendment (don’t get me started), and one thing that gave me hope was that, in moments of political turmoil, there are sometimes silver linings. The example I used was when the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade, it was a kick in the pants to members of Congress to push through rights for same-sex marriage.
DON’T stress about your soundtrack.
I’ve just put on Beyonce’s “Renaissance” album for the past few months. Easy peasy. However, whenever I’ve had to do a big party, I’ve called my friends Leigh Lezark and Geordon Nicol from the Misshapes to DJ. I’m not afraid to outsource. If you don’t know Leigh and Geordon, find a friend whose musical taste you respect, and ask them to make you a playlist as a birthday present. Done.
“Well Balanced” by Derek Blasberg for Paperless Post; Image via Sidney Bensimon.
DON’T bring your pet to a party.
Is that a joke? Who brings a pet to a party?
DO get the lighting right.
I love a house party. The tricky part with those is good lighting and making sure the homeowner isn’t overly precious about their stuff. Pro tip: Turn the lights down to where people can just barely see where they’re going, then light a bunch of candles, and hide the valuables. If houses aren’t an option, try the Hotel Chelsea. I celebrated my 40th there this year. It was the hotel’s first party since the refurbishment, which made me feel special, and I took over the entire ground floor, and I had a blast.
Image via Portoro; Rainbow Table Candles by Meri Meri and Modern Gold Forks by Luxe.
DON’T wait until morning to clean up.
Some of my favorite party memories are from the end of a night, when a few close friends stay behind and help pick up glasses, empty ashtrays, and put pillows back on sofas.
Celebrating an adult birthday party soon? Browse our exclusive collection of new and favorite online invitations from Derek Blasberg.