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5 Tips for Throwing a 1950s Dinner Party

Pick Up Etiquette from Another Era
When in doubt, offer more canapés.
When in doubt, offer more canap├ęs.
George Marks/Retrofile RF/Getty Images

"Emily Post's Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage" (1950) included mannerly advice for middle-class women who -- without the high-society aid of hired help -- acted as cooks, waitresses and hostesses of their own dinner parties. They were encouraged to greet their guests warmly and remain gracious under all manner of circumstances, from fallen souffles to uninvited attendees. Guests, meanwhile, were expected to arrive exactly on time and be pleasant participants in whatever activity the host offered, from photo album perusal to post-dinner party games.

"Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette" (1957) was also full of instructions -- right down to second helpings: "If only one guest has taken seconds, when the platter is passed to you, it's sociable to take a small amount to 'keep him company.'"

Post and Vanderbilt weren't the only pundits offering life guidance -- many 1950s cookbooks did, too. The 1956 edition of "Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book, Revised & Enlarged" offered pithy instruction on everything from cleaning your home ("If you feel tired, lie down on the floor on your back, put your hands above your head, close your eyes, and relax for 3 to 5 min.") to personal outlook ("Every morning before breakfast, comb hair, apply make-up, a dash of cologne, and perhaps some simple earrings. Does wonders for your morale").

These days, what with our ever-evolving, increasingly hectic social lives, it's no wonder we're sometimes nostalgic for a time when the rules seemed crystal clear.