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Partying With A Purpose: How to Navigate the Summer Benefit Season

Originally Posted: June 23, 2005

Heather Buchanan

The original Hamptons social scene was a closed-door affair reserved only for those of the proper pedigree. They scoffed at the nouveau riche who created what the old guard termed "paid parties," where you donated to charity for the privilege of hobnobbing with them. Little did they realize that the charity event would become the lightning rod of society's summer schedule where the social super stars come from all walks of life, forcing them to get over their "my family came over on the Mayflower" selves.

With a plethora of choices, navigating the bustle of benefits can be daunting for anyone who may feel intimidated by the ranks of the see and be seen. Here are a few tips to make the most of the ticket price. And don't forget, it's tax deductible.

The Group For The South Fork - draws a crowd

SUPPORT THE CAUSE
Often the charity itself gets lost in the crowd at the party. Make a conscious choice of which charity you want to support, and don't make it just a one nightstand - they need your time and energy as well. It's a great way to meet like-minded people who share a passion for a political issue, environmental cause, or humanitarian organization. You may even meet Mr. or Ms. Right, and it beats telling your grandchildren you met dancing on a bar -- or at least you were dancing on a bar for a good cause.

You can support everything from The Retreat, a home for battered women, at the Artists Against Abuse event on this Saturday June 25 (631) 329-4398, to cancer research at The Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation's 2nd Annual Hamptons Happening Benefit (organized by event planner Harriette Rose Katz), on July 23 (212) 241-1760, to the Animal Rescue Fund with its Bow Wow Dinner Dance August 20 (631) 537-0400.

Don't forget the after-party!

RUB ELBOWS
Different benefits draw different crowds. The Love Heals event on this Saturday June 25 benefiting the Alison Gertz Foundation for AIDS Education draws young successful singles with a designer packed silent auction (212) 529-7935. The best party in town supporting gay rights is the Hamptons Tea Dance on July 9 to benefit the Empire State Pride Agenda Foundation, and gay or straight, you gotta join this great mix of people to dance to DJ Lady Bunny (212) 627-0305 x114. Want to impress your love interest - treat them to the Orchid Ball, a romantic waterside evening benefiting the Child Development Center of the Hamptons on July 16 (631) 267-2734.

In general the cocktails benefits are more of a singles meet and greet and the dinner dances better suited to couples - unless you are a single guy who can dance in which case you will be golden.

Bring business cards. The casual atmosphere presents the opportunity to connect with someone you've been trying to get on the blackberry. Of course remember that this is the weekend so don't negotiate the whole deal at the buffet. Cards are also essential for the potential love connection. While phone numbers on cocktail napkins have a certain kitsch value, your future mate may getting lost in the rinse cycle and he or she may not remember who "Hamptons Hottie" is on their cell phone contact list.

The fashionable Nicole Miller - casual chic
at the Group For The South Fork Benefit

APPROPRIATE ATTIRE
Many invitations suggest Hamptons casual chic. Now what the heck is that? It means you should look totally done to a T but make it seem as if it took no effort at all. Leave the jeans at home - this is a dress up opportunity but in a flowy, not constricted manner, and if you're going to broadcast your inner sex kitten remember a whisper is better than a shout.

Unless stated on the invitation men rarely wear ties and can always fall back on the khaki, blue blazer uniform especially if the event is in Southampton, but try to give it a little snazz. For the gals, remember that many of high society's doyennes all shop at the same places so to avoid ending up with a separated at birth twin across the room, mix and match different designers and pieces so you come up with something unique. There is almost always a chill in the air so you'll need layers. That sundress that was great at 4 will be freezing at 10 so keep a shawl or sweater handy - unless of course you've got a chivalrous guy who lends you his classic but stylish blue blazer.

Embrace the events which have a theme like Hampton Style's Red Hot, Red Cross Ball which gives you a chance to promote your passionate self in that little red dress on August 20 (631) 702-2600. If you've been longing to wear that exotic animal print the LongHouse Reserve's African Odyssey on July 23 gives you the chance to enjoy a safari East Hampton style at this beautiful nature preserve (631) 329-3568.

One of the biggest mistakes is a high heel since you're almost always on grass or sand. Flats and wedges are the rule unless you want to look like a drunken gazelle stuck in the mud. You also spend a great deal of time on your feet. Comfort is king.

And finally, certain things should never be visible: thongs, lip liners, and desperation.

A fun crowd gathered for the American Heart
Association Heart Ball

MANNERS MATTER
It is a beautiful evening in the Hamptons in an elegant setting - leave the rude behavior on the streets of the city. RSVP early so there isn't a last minute missing of the list. If there's a legitimate problem at the door don't make it a capital offense. You'd be surprised how many people try to scam their way into these benefits. There's no bigger turn off than someone who yells at a charity event volunteer.

Just because you're not paying a bar tab at the end of the night doesn't mean this is the all-you-can-drink fiesta. You either know or want to know your fellow guests so this is not the place to get tanked, tell bad Michael Jackson jokes, or render your best Ethel Merman impression.

Do be social. Your mother was right - just go out there and smile - there are very few serial killers in the Hamptons. Most celebrities are approachable for a quick hello, quick being the operative word. Rubbing elbows is fine, just not too roughly if they're holding a martini.

So you want to get your picture in a Hampton's magazine. You know the photographer is serious when they ask for your name. It always helps to be a pretty girl or be near a pretty girl. Cute babies and puppies also attract the flash, and an exceptionally large farm stand vegetable works in a pinch.

I know that people absolutely freak out over free stuff, but keep the goody bag frenzy to a low roar. Don't be the last one out of the party if you want to be guaranteed a bag and try to respect their one bag per person or couple rule because it's embarrassing when security has to step in and say "Maam, back away from the bag."

Oh yeah, and be nice to the press.

Check the Hamptonsview.com calendar for the full schedule of charity events.




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