In this era of Pinterest and craft blogs, it can be easy to slide into party anxiety; if your party isn’t themed to the teeth, color coordinated, and perfect vintage-chic, somehow it’s not a real party. To this I say NONSENSE. Parties are about the people attending them, not how they look.
NO! Not another pretty party! With perfectly-planned coordinating courses, a playlist, and cleverly-crafted decorations! NOT TODAY! Today, we celebrate the ugly party.
This winter I have been learning the value of the ugly party. The unplanned party. The no-decorations, unfancy food, just-get-together-and-love-it party. These impromptu parties have been some of the most enjoyable socials I’ve been to all year — and I think hosting an ugly party fosters skills you need to ensure you’ll never attend a boring party — ugly or pretty — again.
These parties are best for people who A: are socially anxious or B: have socially anxious friends. So basically? Ugly parties are for everyone.
How to throw an ugly party: the basics
- Clean your house (or not, whatever)
- Stock up on drinks and light snacks. You can go heavy on food if you’d like, but be careful — it can be easy to get lost in food prep anxiety.
- Turn the lights down low. Party atmosphere, ENGAGE!
- Turn on music. Keep it low at the start. As guests get louder, turn it up to fill in lulls in conversation.
- Provide refreshments. If your guests are drinking, make sure they don’t go dry until things are in full swing. Alcohol isn’t called a social lubricant for nothing.
- Plan low-key entertainment. You don’t have to wrangle people — “HEY Y’ALL LET’S DO APPLES TO APPLES!” — Instead, make sure group interaction aids (like board games, cards, beer pong, darts, Dance Dance Revolution) are available.
- Try to keep everyone in the same room. It’s much easier to move from conversation to conversation and not get all awkward when there are people your guests can serendipitously overhear and slide over to join.
How to throw an ugly party: the hard part
Throwing an ugly party will flex your skills as a host. Pretty parties offer distraction and conversation topics; ugly parties make you stare at each other while you wait for the beer to kick in. Pretty parties almost never veer from white bread subjects; while ugly parties? Guests ARE the entertainment at ugly parties, so they have to practice conversational skills, teach each other party tricks, and they occasionally argue — though I’ve been blessed to host only civilized debaters.
This is where you, the host, are important: you must ALSO be a social lubricant, focusing your attention on the low-maintenance atmosphere and your guests’ comfort. Several ugly parties I’ve been to started out the evening with the distinct “ohhh this is going to be the worst party everrrr” feeling. At one, I actually had a thought along the lines of: “Will we even be able to be FRIENDS after this party?” It was that bad. But with careful host attention, they’ve all turned out wonderfully.
Advanced ugly parties
- Make sure people know each other by doing a casual introduction for any newbies. It doesn’t have to be smooth. I like to be straightforward, because that’s how I roll: “Everyone, this is Weezy. She moved here in August. She is a writer, and consults for non-profits. Weezy. You might like a conversation with Kyle.” I sort of force my guests to have self-confidence.
- If someone’s particularly difficult, remember: everyone wants to be liked. And you are a kind person. You probably like all of your guests. Show them that love, ask them questions, take interest in them, and they’ll melt into relaxed party mode in no time. EVERYONE ALSO WANTS TO PARTY.
- Plan to spend the first 60-90 minutes of an ugly party hustling back and forth. You are at WORK! Smile. Strike up conversations with wallflowers, and stick around until you can hook them up with a conversation buddy. Serve drinks and food. Ask every empty-handed guest what you can get them. Never let them refuse SOMETHING: even a glass of water placed nearby gives people something to sip on/distract themselves with.
- Babysit the music.
- Monitor the group for inaction. Often people will hem and haw about an activity since no one wants to take charge. Take charge. Tell them you’re setting up activity X. It doesn’t matter if they finish the activity or not — they’ll start socializing.
Then take a break! But stay alert: as the party atmosphere evolves (due to intoxication, guests leaving/arriving/falling asleep) you will have to step up again.
- Don’t worry about cleaning up DURING the party. But do clear dishes and glasses which become obtrusive.
- As parties roll on, needs often change. Stay alert, and feel free to shepherd guests to another location: somewhere better for lounging, to the deck for late night soul-searching, to the den for movies to sober up to.
Above all, remember to start the night by putting on your host hat. Do whatever you’ve got to do — just realize that you are stepping into a character. Stare into the mirror, wear an actual hat; make a designation between “normal” you and “host” you. This might not be important for everyone, but it’s super useful for me, an introvert who’d REALLY rather get drunk on the couch and draw all night, PEOPLE BE DAMNED!
When I put on my hostess hat I am a people LOVER. I want them all to have fun at my house. I want to make sure everyone feels comfortable, calm, kind, and liberated (especially when they’re at my house for a party like Festivus, where we have to tell each other hard truths and emerge without hurt feelings). I can have conversations like nobody’s business — because I’m all about making sure my guests let it alllll hang out.
The beauty of ugly parties is this: they’re all about friends. A good ugly party will make newbies in your social circle feel like they’ve made new friends, you’ll have a sticky kitchen floor, and an ugly party will probably leave a few old friends asleep on a futon. On top of that, you’ll be able to use your new-found skills to liven up any party — even when you’re just a guest. Let me tell you: not much feels better than making other people feel good.