Sometimes the host and hostess prefer to give their entertainment at one of the establishments -- Delmonico's, or one of his rivals -- specially fitted up for that purpose. This saves an immense amount of trouble at home, for the whole affair is then placed in the hands of the fashionable caterer, who provides everything, attends to all the details, and the givers of the entertainment have only to dress at home and repair to the appointed place in time to receive their guests. The plan has its advantages. Others, especially those who have large and elegant mansions suited to such gatherings, prefer to give their balls and parties at their own houses. Whichever method be adopted, the entertainment is sure to be a costly one. Anywhere from $5000 to $20,000 must be expended on a fashionable party. The details are generally left to the mistress of the house; the liege lord's share in the affair is to do what he can towards making the evening pleasant, and pay the bills without grumbling.
Having decided to give a party, the hostess summons to her aid the sexton of the fashionable church she attends, and gives him a list of the names of the guests she wishes invited. He has carte blaniche to add to this the names of any desirable young men he may think worthy of the honor, and of any distinguished strangers, foreigners especially, who may be in the city at the time. The late lamented Brown, of Grace Church, during his day enjoyed almost a monopoly of this business, and amassed quite a snug fortune therefrom. The fashionable sextons all keep lists of the eligible young men in town, and are literally besieged for invitations. Some of them turn a pretty penny by "giving" these only to the young men who can afford to pay for them, even going so far as to revise the list of the mistress of the house, when it is to their interest to do so.
The invitations out, and the preparations for the ball being made, the hostess turns her attention to her own costume, and to those of the members of her family. This requires much thought and many consultations with the modiste. Society, on its part, is engaged in similar preparations, and the dry goods stores and dressmakers reap a harvest. Upon the night of the entertainment a carpet is spread from the doorway to the edge of the sidewalk, and a temporary awning is erected over this. A policeman is provided to keep off the crowd of lookers-on which such an occasion invariably draws, and the sexton in charge takes his place at the door to receive the cards of invitation as the guests arrive.
Between nine and ten, handsome carriages, with servants in livery, drive up and deposit their inmates at the awning, through which they pass into the house, delivering their cards of invitation to the pompous sexton at the door. Thence they pass to the dressing-room, to divest themselves of their wraps, after which they descend to the drawing-room and pay their respects to their host and hostess. When there is to be dancing, a fine orchestra is provided, and if the German is to be danced during the evening, the fact is announced by placing a row of chairs around the room and tying them in couples with pocket handkerchiefs.
But little dancing is engaged in during the earlier hours of the evening, this time being generally taken up by the arrivals of the guests, and in promenading. By a little before midnight the parlors are filled with a brilliant and richly-dressed throng; conversation and laughter rise confusedly on the heated air; and the enlivening strains of the musicians fill the place with entrancing melody. At midnight the supper rooms are thrown open, and the parlors are at once deserted for the tables. Fashionable New York dearly loves these suppers, and responds cordially to the invitations of those who have the reputation of giving good ones. The service is excellent; the waiters are either French or colored, are attired as fauldessly as the gentlemen guests, and in exact imitation of them, and are adepts at their business. All one's wants are quickly and courteously supplied, without confusion or delay. The table groans with the choicest delicacies of the season, served in the most tempting manner. Wine flows freely; as many as several hundred bottles often being consumed during the evening. The ladies drink as heartily as their partners, and one wonders how they can stand it so well.
Supper over, the ball-room soon fills up again and the dancing begins in earnest. If the German is danced, the better part of the small hours of the morning are devoted to it. As the dance is generally familiar to our readers, we shall attempt no description of it; but will merely remark that it seems to owe its popularity to the fact that it permits liberties to be taken with the fair sex which would not be tolerated under other circumstances.
During the intervals of the dances conversation, such as it is, goes on unflaggingly. The following is a verbatim report of a part of a conversation between a young lady of high position in society and an equally "high-toned" young man. It is given as it was over-heard:
He. "Aw, Miss Jay, saw you 'joying the races to-day." She. "Yeth; they're awfully jawly, ain't they? Right fun to bet, ain't it?" He. "Ya-as, rawther jawly to bet when you win, you know; but beastly, awfully beastly, to bet and lose, you know." She. "Did you lose? Well, that wan't so offly jawly. Lost myself, yest'day. Dare say you'll win 'gain to-morrow, and then you'll think it jawly fun, you know." He. "O! dare say shall; but caunt help feelin' beastly 'bout losin' yest'day, you know. Do you like boating? Think its right fun, and offly jawly, you know."
But we will not weary the reader. Towards daylight the guests depart, worn out with fatigue, and sometimes a little hazy from the fumes of the champagne that has gotten into their heads, and the ball is over. Night after night, during the season, the same performance is repeated at other houses. No wonder, then, that society is so sorely in need of rest and change when the summer comes and the watering places open their doors; it is literally worn out.
Every lady of fashion in New York has a certain day of the week set apart on which she receives her "dear five hundred friends." At such times she is "at home" to all her acquaintances of both sexes, who may wish to call. These are very select affairs, and are occasions for the display of magnificent costumes by the lady visitors. Few gentlemen are present, the hours being generally from four to six, a period of the day when the male creature is occupied with other matters; so the ladies usually have the field to themselves. On such occasions any man who may happen to be present is pretty sure of being the centre of a circle of attraction, not because of any particular merit in himself, but simply because he is a creature who does not wear petticoats. A correspondent of The Queen, the London "Lady's Newspaper," thus describes one of these gatherings: —
"Of course the awning is up, and it is something better than a roof on poles, being a completely enclosed passage, sides, roof, floor and all, complete, running down to the curb, so that no wind or rain can penetrate it. The crowd of curious ragamuffins is thus dispensed with, and the kid boots and the front hair — which, by the way, is always frizzled, or crimped or curled in some loose way, on the American female head — protected from the ravages of the elements. The first figure we see s a remarkable one. Standing on the steps is a portly man, with pompous aids, the sexton of some fashionable temple, who by virtue of his office holds an unassailable position in New York society. He is a kind of social factotum at all parties of consideration.
"New York houses are mostly somewhat narrow — three or four rooms on the ground floor, one behind the other and with folding doors thrown open, and perhaps one or two rooms on the first floor, form the reception apartment, into which, without individual announcement, we are ushered. It is an inconvenient but very general custom here, even if you are making a call, for the man to say, 'Step right into the parlor, sir,' indicating the room and leaving you to obtrude your unannounced presence on its occupants. This may be awkward, but any young lady who doesn't like it can remedy it. Possibly this reception is given, as is the custom here, in addition to a ball, to celebrate the 'coming out' of a daughter of the house. If so, she has some of her friends to receive with her, who have their bonnets off and move round the room, introducing where it is necessary — always called 'presenting' in this country — and performing all those little offices which are almost too much for one hostess. It is a good plan, and quite frequent here, for the hostess to have other ladies to receive with her, as besides the air of comfort and familiarity, it gives a certain 'go' to what would otherwise be rather a slow and formal affair. The cards have 'four to six ' on them, and, of course, in the winter gas is necessary all over the house. The effect of the brilliantly lighted and decorated rooms is enriched by a throng of women dressed up to their eyes and full of gayety. Over all these is an aspect of high spirits and animation, which would strike an English visitor more than anything else.
"The air of general animation over a party here, composed of a different class of people, is, perhaps, not excepting beauty, its most charming element; it is the aggregate effect of the individual vivacity and piquancy af the American female character, which, in its best representatives, seems to add these traits to all that is estimable in English women — a tolerably bold statement, I fear, for your columns. Observe this young lady here, on the sofa, a belle, and considered 'bright,' but there are many like her in the room. Her beauty and grace, her complexion and dress, we will put on one side or won't mention, as the Irish writer puts it; but mark her sparkling face and genial good humor as she talks, the felicity of her language, the readiness of her repartee, always delicate, but generally with a delicious little dash of satire; the clearness of her ideas, the tact with which she draws out her companion, to show his best points, and the generally unaffected ease with which she sustains a lengthened conversation on any subject under the sun, with fool or wise man. Mr. Editor, they are a wonderful race are these American women; but one word about the flowers, this afternoon, and I shall have done. The rooms are covered with them in every shape and variety of tasteful arrangement. Wreaths of the fresh and graceful smilax — a fern which I have not seen in England, but which is admirably adapted to decoration — interspersed with flowers, depend from the chandeliers, cornices, and mantelpieces. A magnificent cornucopia of all kinds of flowers, perfect in formation and in the blending of color, stands in one corner of the room. In the next, where the chandelier is hung, is a large, loosely made ball, nearly a yard in diameter, of different-colored flowers, and embedded in it on either side, also formed of flowers, is a graceful H, the initial letter of the daughters name for whom the reception is given. Plateaus of flowers stand against the walls and hang from the pictures, while the mantelpieces are buds of moss and fern, in which rare exotics are growing, or drooping plants form a natural fringe toward the effect of freshness, light, and nature's beauty that this floral wealth gives to rooms which, without it, have nothing to depend on but art. It is the great forte of American entertainment. Flowers are very dear in winter, but no cost is spared to secure their display."Lights and shadows of New York life; or, The sights and sensations of the great city. A work descriptive of the city of New York in all its various phases with full and graphic accounts of its splendors and wretchedness; its high and low life, its marble palaces and dark dens, its mysteries, and its crimes. 1872; by James Dabney McCabe, Jr.