All I can tell you is that parties have changed.
In my twenties, when I got ready for a night out, it was a matter of finding clean underwear, keeping on the jeans I wore every day and choosing a blue top so some guy might notice how my eyes popped with a robin’s egg hue. I did wash my hair as that was my other big sell in those days. I had tresses halfway down my back so it was quite the come on when I swished my head side to side, which for some reason I was driven to do several times an hour. Maybe I brought a joint or a bottle of wine if I had a few extra bucks. My recollection is that we just ate Triscuits and cream cheese all night until the joints had been thoroughly vetted. Then it was a mad search through cupboards for cookies. Or anything. Topics of conversation? Politics, mainly. Perhaps what party was coming up the next weekend. Heady times.
In my thirties, if we had the energy or time for parties, dinner was potluck and we had to be home early enough for the youngest kid to meet their bedtime. Everyone was exhausted from parenting, working, and parenting again. Our major topic of conversation was whatever developmental stage we were being conquered by that week. Preparation prior to the gathering was, again, washing my hair (showers were like gold in those days – one longer than a minute without a four year old banging on the door was as if God herself had packaged up rainbows and funneled them into my brain). Again, I had to locate clean clothes, which somehow was more difficult due to the acres of dirty laundry dominating the landscape of our home. Hair, now six inches shorter, was in a pony tail in case someone vomited all over me in the middle of the night and I wouldn’t have time before work the next day to wash it out.
Parties in my forties, particularly because that was a transitional time for me (read: divorce) tended to be dinner parties where one person cooked for the whole group. Prep was more involved. Hair was difficult because it was now short and I had to cope with the reality that my hairdresser could make that new look downright saucy, but when I tried I was a dead ringer for my mother’s cleaning lady from Latvia. Though I loved that woman and she gave me some of the best advice ever when I was in my twenties (“For God’s sake, take off those jeans and put on a dress when you go to a job interview!”) Erika was no fashion icon and her hair was old country, so I spent far too much time trying to avoid the resemblance prior to leaving the house.
The forties were all about ‘nice/casual’ wear. The parties were sans kids by then and we were all professionals, so jeans, other than at certain friend’s abodes, were too casual. After struggling with my now chin length hair, I now added mascara and a tiny bit of blush. Thinking back, I realize my relationship with foundation would begin in the next decade (my fifties), but in those days I lived in a small city that didn’t take on airs. I don’t think the local Bon Marche (later Macys) where one could buy ‘fancy’ makeup ever had anyone purchasing foundation before their first social security check arrived. As for the party vibe/activities – no weed, reasonable amounts of wine, and conversation focused on new jobs or career goals.
In my fifties and early sixties, the pre-party work became more intensive. Foundation was now in my toolkit. Eye shadow required ‘nuances’ on the lid and lipstick wasn’t just one color; there was a blending of two to make a statement. (I remember watching Oprah a lot during that decade and being struck by her disclosure that she never used just one color of lipstick. ‘Nuff said, Oprah!) Clothing during this decade was upgraded, sometimes to a semi-glam for holiday wear. Holiday wear in my twenties did not exist. During my thirties and forties, all it required was a red sweater. So an actual ‘party’ outfit or two in my closet felt like I’d been put on the accelerated track in high school after years of being a strong “C” student.
I attended a gathering last week as a near seventy year old, and I was one of the youngest in the crowd. My preparation returned to earlier times – more moisturizer than foundation, less shadow, lighter lipstick, heavy on the earrings.
This is how I spend my time at parties now: pleasant chatting about films, books or social issues, then focusing on one primary, private activity; counting wrinkles on other women’s faces. I notice who has more, where they’re located (cheek, neck, forehead etc.), how said woman has tried or not to compensate for their quota, and who looks great despite this inevitable handiwork of life.
This crowd had a few followers of peels but I didn’t note anyone who’d sold their souls for a facelift or significant nips or tucks. The activity took me through several hours, as if I were the secret anthropologist and those other women my unsuspecting subjects – Jane Goodall circa 2017.
Is this new focus at parties more fun than getting high in my twenties, boasting about my toddler’s reading ability in my thirties, celebrating my total personhood in my forties or enjoying a moment of glam in my fifties? No, it’s not. Nor is it more entertaining, and I wouldn’t mind at all skipping back to that brief glam spate of a decade ago. But it’s a hell a lot more amusing than what I envision in ten years if I attend parties at all – counting the people who aren’t there anymore. That’s a terrible activity.
I think at that point I’ll just bring a joint to help us all forget the machinations of the night’s activities. Maybe I’ll swish my hair back and forth for old time’s sake. At that point, if I throw in a few Triscuits, it’s possible those of us left to gather together might believe we were at the beginning of it all.
And that would be a lovely party game.