July in the city means DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s classic jam “Summertime” on repeat, fireworks of both the sanctioned and the sidewalk variety, backyard barbeques, and the ubiquitous White Party. It’s officially White Party season — that time of year when you’ve always got to have the requisite pure white outfit(s) clean, pressed, and ready to go. While it may seem elitist to restrict partygoers to one color they may not necessarily have in their wardrobe already (unless, of course, they are annual attendees of White Parties), fans of the genre say, in fact, it allows anyone to participate in a little spectacle of glamor.
The Inclusive Allure of White Parties
“You can go to other parties and balls and events where people are well appointed, but there’s something about a white party that makes it inclusive because we can all do it,” said Tracy Romans, a family service counselor who’s been to numerous white parties, including the somewhat infamous Le Dîner en Blanc. “It has some sort of panache that you don’t feel or get when you’re going to any other event,” she added.
The Elegance of the White Party
White parties have become so popular that I’d already been to two this summer, in two different cities, before Big Scott & Friend’s annual All White Affair last weekend at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey. Longtime promoter Scott “Big Scott” Shepherd has thrown the event for the last 11 years, first at Campbell’s Field in Camden, then at the aquarium.
He explains that the true appeal of the white party isn’t the color of the dress, it’s the elegance. You have to comport yourself differently when your outfit could be so easily ruined by some misplaced red wine. “It could be any color,” Shepherd said. “[But] white gives you that clean look. White goes from, instead of getting a handshake, you get a [fist] pound, and I’m going to eat before I get there because I don’t want anything to get on my white.”
The Ultimate White Party Experience
His party offered drink sampling, vendors selling everything from cigars to jewelry, and performances by New Jersey native singer/songwriter Eric Roberson and hip hop group Brand Nubian. Local celebrities Lady B and Patty Jackson were in attendance. Not all white parties are this lavish, but they all share a common rule: you must wear the theme color. Shepherd turned away those who came dressed in other colors. Lest that sound harsh, Le Dîner en Blanc, perhaps the granddaddy of the White Party, does the same.
Le Dîner en Blanc, the pop-up outdoor dinner party that originated in Paris in 1988, has spread across the globe and is now held in over 80 cities in 30 countries. Philadelphia’s edition is among the most popular and the most controversial. This year’s local iteration will take place in an as-yet undisclosed Philadelphia location on August 16. The rules for Le Dîner en Blanc are clearly stated on their website: White only – no ivory, no off-white, and quelle horreur, no beige.
But while they may share a dress code, not all white parties are created equal. While Shepherd’s event is an inclusive affair that demands only adherence to the all-white dress code and the price of admission, Le Dîner en Blanc is a coveted, exclusive event with a restricted invite process. Attendees must bring their own table, chairs, and until recently, their own food (you now also have the option of ordering a meal in advance). At the appointed time, everyone descends on a chosen public space, sets up their tables, eats their meal, then carts away their own trash — after paying upwards of $43 for the privilege. Champagne and wine are allowed, spirits are not. All table settings must be white too. You can only get in through an invite from friends who have already been, or via an email request on the official website, which does not guarantee selection or admittance.
Embracing the Dress Code
Still, Romans says there’s something egalitarian about the dress code. “One of the great things about them is that everybody starts from the same place. It’s the spin you put on it,” she said. Plus, it’s just one of those summer things, like the beach and barbecues. Something to miss when winter rolls around. “We look forward to the warm weather and the opportunity to be unencumbered by boots and hats and scarves. It’s a way of celebrating the season and gathering together with people you may not see in the wintertime,” Romans said. “You feel good, and you feel like you look better with a tan, and all those things come together to make it the best of all parties.”
A cursory look at upcoming Philadelphia events counts no less than eight public White Parties. (Council member Curtis Jones even throws one every year). And of course, that doesn’t include the multitude of private ones that are also surely happening. Here are four places to rock your best all-white outfit before the summer ends:
- Le Dîner En Blanc Philadelphia
- Divalicious White and Wine Soiree
- Philadelphia Alumnae Delta Sigma Theta Sorority All White Day Party
- A Night In Suffrage White Pop-Up Day Party Fundraiser
This article is part of a new effort recommending things to do in the Philly region. Tell us what you think.