In her debut book, Entertaining, Martha Stewart describes hosting as “the desire to please someone in a personal way.” It’s a principle I’ve adopted as the host of many a cocktail party and seated dinner. But in addition to thoughtfully choosing a menu and tablescape, there’s another thing I’ll always curate to set the mood for a group of guests: the magazines I have on display. They’re not new magazines but vintage, from a collection I’ve built that mainly consists of landmark covers of the ’80s, ’90s, and early aughts (what many consider the medium’s golden age). Depending on the type of company I’m expecting, I’ll pull out specific issues.
For instance: Time’s 1996 cover featuring Ellen DeGeneres declaring “Yep! I’m Gay” never fails to elicit an “Oh my God” gasp from gay visitors. And when girlfriends I went to college with are coming over, I will set out Rolling Stone’s 1999 issue featuring an in-her-prime Britney Spears — a touchstone for our generation (old millennial). Once when hosting a small birthday party with very writerly guests, I put out the 1967 Saturday Evening Post with Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” essay. It was admittedly corny, and a little on-the-nose, but everyone gagged (so much that I genuinely worried someone would walk out with it when the night was over).
The magazines are ideal icebreakers, conjuring just enough excitement to get people talking at the start of an evening, something I’ve rarely seen coffee-table books do. Plus putting them out lets me show off a bit — which, let’s be honest, is part of the pleasure of having people over. Below, a starter pack of classic magazines that will add a personal touch when hosting any group or occasion.
An old millennials’ night in
I remember going to buy this issue at the Waldenbooks in my local mall after seeing a segment about it on Entertainment Tonight (I still have that same copy). It was such a bewildering moment that I’ve noticed most people around my age have a story about this particular magazine.
A best friend’s baby shower
For New York natives of a certain age
A Grammy party
Dinner with a friend and her art-director boyfriend
A party for an entrepreneur friend
Everyone knows people with an app they’re trying to get off the ground (or an as-yet-monetizable meme account). And who better to inspire them to turn dream into reality than the original — and most glamorous — start-up queen, Diane von Furstenberg. This issue is not cheap but is likely to only go up in value (like von Furstenberg’s company did over the years).
A Boiler Room after-party
A very specific get-together that calls for a very specific title. I have just about every issue of ’70s “entertainment” magazine After Dark. It specialized in gay icons like Bette Midler and Karen Black, and, of course, usually shirtless hunks of the moment like Michael York or Arnold Schwarzenegger (though ironically it never labeled itself as gay anywhere in print). The fashion and “spa” advertisements are far better than any of the features.
A moon-landing anniversary party
Hosting Beltway friends
At $200, it’s another splurge, but this is my most-prized issue of any I own. Cindy Crawford, Herb Ritts, John F. Kennedy Jr. — the glamour! (Only a Kennedy could try to make D.C. sexy and succeed.) You’d be surprised how many people who work in Washington don’t know about George.
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