Y’all. A few weeks ago I went thrift shopping for the first time with my friend Lola from Found in Philadelphia. I had been thinking about stepping up my dinner party game for a long time, but didn’t know where to start and had no idea how to do it cost efficiently. And then I started talking to Lola. (You should also absolutely check out her post about how to go thrifting with friends. She breaks it down quite nicely!)
I thought I didn’t like thrift shopping because I don’t have any patience to try on clothing, but when we started searching for home pieces and she began to lead me through all the nooks and crannies of Philly Aids Thrift I thought to myself, this is something I could get down with. Why? Because you don’t need to make sure that home pieces fit before you take them home. And they’re pretty. And it’s like going on a treasure hunt.
I love being on a mission to find the perfect item that you’re looking for. I recently did it with a candle. I spent months looking for the perfect candle and when I found it I was actually a little disappointed.
Back to my story about the dinner party. I spent the months of May and June pinning +20 pins each day (as a social media experiment) and found so many fancy dinner party setups that I loved. I started to wonder if there was something to it. Did setting the table in advance and paying attention to the details make for a better party? There was only one way to find out.
When I started thinking about my dinner party I knew I needed a table cloth, center piece stuff, napkins, name tags, dishes, silverware, and glassware. I made the decision from the beginning to purchase a few of these items new so I didn’t get overwhelmed. I bought new dishes from ikea (this set plus these add-ons) and white cotton dinner napkins on Amazon. Just knowing that I already had the basics made me feel better.
Pro Tip: It’s probably not worth buying items you could get cheaply at Ikea or Target at the Thrift Shop because the price isn’t cut enough from the actual price. Look at the brand before your final purchase.
This left only two things for me to buy that weren’t already in my collection: a table cloth and center piece stuff. Lola and I met up early on a Saturday morning to browse the shop. She first led me to the houseware fabric section. This included fabric, curtains, place mats, table cloths, and runners. After browsing through the options I found a really nice lace tablecloth and a simple light brown curtain I could put under it so you couldn’t see my table. Lola showed me how you could really use any piece of fabric to cover a table, you just needed to be create about how you set it up. I was so surprised at how many options there were out of a pile of options that looked less than promising when I walked in.
Pro Tip: Just soak anything you buy in Oxi Clean over night and it will brighten itself up by the morning.
Pro Tip: Think about how you can spruce things up a little bit. Could you cut it? Bedazzle it? Add trim to it? Fold it? The possibilities are endless.
I spent a lot of my time searching for small vases, cable holders, and other interesting pieces to put in the center of the table. After my first trip I left with 4 small, circular votive holders and two tall candle holders. These were easy to find and there were a lot of options for me to choose from. I felt a little bummed out when I got home though because I was looking for something a little fancier to make the table pop. While cleaning out my “odds-and-ends box” later in the week though I found a silver tray, gold beads, and a green vase that I already had. This meant that I didn’t need to continue my search, at least for this party. Plus it felt good to be able to use things I already owned.
Pro Tip: Soak any glassware items you buy in soapy water for a few hours and any film on them will come right off when you go to wash it.
I was amazed by the plate section of the store. I had no idea there were going to be so many options. I had no idea I could buy such adorable glass plates, and I had no idea that there were so many patterns available. I was on a mission to try to find gold chargers to put under the dinner plates, but I wasn’t able to make it happen before the party. I looked in every thrift store I passed to see if they had them with no avail. Next time.
Pro Tip: Spend some time getting to know the nooks and crannies of your local thrift shops (that’s right, plural) better so that you have a better understanding of what to find where in the future. And once you know what’s there, if there’s a lot of something available you realize you don’t need to stock your whole collection, just wait until you need it and you’ll know right where to find it.
I was also very happy that so much of what I owned was already very simple. Simple salt and pepper shakers, simple wine glasses, and simple silverware.
A week before the party I fake set the table to see how it was looking. I sent pictures to Lola to show her the progress I had made. I felt like my mother. I absolutely understood why she started setting tables for 20 people so early. That looked a little something like this:
I ended up deciding not to use the tall candles on the table because I’m super clumsy. I was also really proud of myself for finding a way to pull the color of the vase through the table by tying a simple ribbon around the napkin. I also bought some greenery the weekend before so that it would bring a pop of color to an otherwise pretty neutral table.
The night before the party I wrote out name tags. I kept it simple using supplies from my card making stash.
I would say overall that the table looked pretty good. I’m not brave enough to try mixing and matching bold colors yet, but I think this was a good start. I could see myself easily starting to add a pop of color here and a pop of color there. I would actually really love to branch out into mismatched plates, but that seems a little too advanced for this new thrift shopper right now. Especially because I’m not a huge fan of florals. But it does sound like this could be a good long-term treasure hunt.
What did I learn about setting up for a fancy dinner party?
- It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. Setting up the table directions was pretty fun, and it was cool to run through my house to see what other items I had to add to the table.
- Between the cooking a three-course meal vs. setting the table, it was definitely the cooking the three-course meal that was the more stressful part. It always has been for me. Making sure that everything is done at the right time while not overheating your kitchen before your guests arrive is a nearly impossible task as far as I’m concerned. I did okay, but it was a whirlwind of a 48 hours before the party.
- Having a fancy table didn’t change the dinner conversation at all. There was a moment when everybody walked in and said how nice it looked, there was the awkward, “I don’t feel well-dressed enough for this” comment once or twice, and other than that the conversation went on as it has for every other dinner party our group of friends has ever had.
- It’s not as easy to take cute pictures of the decor as I wanted it to be. There’s definitely a learning curve on this one. Especially in a basement kitchen that doesn’t get much natural light.
Was it worth it? Of course. It was all an experiment! Would I do it again? Absolutely. But not because I think it’s necessary, because by no means did it change the outcome of my party. I think it’s a great way to stretch your brain in a way you don’t usually get to do at a 9-5 job. It’s a cool way to express yourself, search for cool pieces, and create something pretty.
Oh. You wanted to know what I cooked? Sorry about that.
More later to come about coordinating getting all of these things done at the same time.
So that’s it. My first fancy dinner party. I think I would call it a success! Since this party there are a few related things that have happened in my life:
- I’ve decided to host a fancy purple brunch. I’m currently on a mission for one of those three-tier tea trays. Haven’t found it yet though.
- I can’t figure out the best way to store all of these pieces that I’m buying so that I can look at them all and find them when I need them. Any and all suggestions welcome.
- My mother has started offering me everything from around the house to take back to Philadelphia with me. Because that’s what mothers do.
If you’re new to thrifting and want to give it a try check out some of these fun posts by Lola:
- How to Thrift: A Guide for Beginners
- 5 Things I Learned in 6 Months of Buying Something New
- How to Edit When You Find Too Much at the Thrift Store
- Advice for Visiting the Goodwill Outlet
- Buying Thrifted and Vintage Furniture in Philly
I highly recommend checking out some of those posts, she does a great job breaking down something that seems (to me) like an otherwise daunting (and not always appearing to be worth it) process. There’s so much more to it than what’s on the surface though. I’ve actually added walks to the thrift store into my regular routine now because it’s a good excuse to go browse for something cool and get out of the house without necessarily having to buy anything. My best find so far? A three-tier hanging fruit basket for my kitchen for 25 cents. We call that winning.
Thanks for reading, I’d love to hear about your dinner party experiences below!