"Let's meet Friday at about 8:00." Sure, but...exactly when is "about" 8? Knowing the difference between on time, fashionably late and just late-late can feel complicated. But relax: there's a window inside which you can arrive late to some of your next gatherings without being rude. Let's break it down.
What does it mean to be fashionably late?
The concept of being fashionably late is all about being cool and making an entrance to a captive audience. It's wrapped up in images of movie stars and world travelers swanning into swanky affairs. And on the one hand, there's something to be said for joining a party already in full swing. No awkward hanging around before the snacks are set out and the first drinks poured, making stilted conversation with the other early birds. And that's the other hand: arriving too early is just as rude as getting there too late. Your hosts need time to set the stage and get the goodies out before they're ready to receive their guests. Sometimes being late is just kind of... polite.
Etiquette for arriving fashionably late.
Be it a formal event or some kind of work-related celebration, this is a gathering that involves getting dressed up to the right degree and also knowing just when to arrive. The window for lateness here is within half an hour of when the event "starts." Timing is crucial, though. You can miss the first round of socializing, snacks and drinks, sure. But getting there after any opening welcoming remarks? That's late-late and rude.
Remember, this is a work event. You need to be on your best behavior, and that includes being present for the evening's main elements. And making a good show does more than just impress your boss: work events are an excellent opportunity to do a little networking. Give yourself time to chitchat with intent.
The window for this kind of gathering, be it with friends or for work, is 15 to 20 minutes. The whole point of a cocktail party is for people to mingle, so arriving with the bulk of the other guests is ideal. Get a drink and some snacks and start chatting. Get there too early and you're just hanging out, waiting. Too late? Rude, yes, but you also might miss the really good nibbles too.
This one is all about punctuality. Why? Because dinner is involved, and it's being prepared with a set serving time already in place. Arriving late, with everyone already seated at the table, is a major social faux pas. Your host has a plan for the evening and it relies heavily on the timing of the meal. Everything from the drink and mingle period to the coffee and dessert is organized around when that first course is served. Be polite enough to respect this schedule and the time and effort involved in hostessing.
Pro dinner guest tip: a small hostess gift is never a bad idea. Keep it simple: a bottle of wine, a potted herb or a neutral-scented candle are nice ways to say thanks for the free food and good company.
House or block party.
Like the club, these events have a natural rhythm. They start slow, kick into gear and eventually wind down. The trick, like double dutch, is knowing just when to jump into the middle. Any kind of large, informal social gathering has a two or three-hour warm-up time, usually. Before that, there's often a fair amount of loitering, lingering and chit-chatting.
If you like to be there as things get going, by all means, arrive closer to the "start" time. But if you love pulling up just as things heat up? Go ahead and take your time getting ready.
This is a no brainer, but we'll say it anyway: Don't be late to a wedding, a funeral, a performance or a celebration. Just...don't. Even the smallest and most intimate of affairs requires punctuality. From a grand cathedral wedding to your nephew's middle school graduation ceremony, from a play to Uncle Ed's funeral, these ceremonies involve showing respect to both the occasion and its participants.
These life event ceremonies deserve to have you take time from work and other obligations, once you commit to attending. Lateness goes beyond rudeness and crosses over into the realm of the seriously offensive.
Bridal and baby showers.
Similar to the above ceremonies, showers are smaller gatherings of celebration and as such should be attended on time. There's still about a 15-minute window inside which you'll be considered reasonably punctual, but 20 minutes or more will be noted as rude.
Showers can be rather regimented affairs, with time for socializing, time for games, for eating and for opening presents all planned out ahead of time. Arriving late could interrupt this schedule and might take away from everyone's fun in that moment.
How do I arrive on time?
• Save the date.
For most of these events, save a friendly casual gathering, you'll probably have weeks if not months of advanced warning. Put the date into your calendar and keep it in mind. The closer it gets, the more you'll be able to work your schedule around it. This saves you any last-minute conflicts, double bookings and, obviously, the risk of running late.
• Plan ahead.
You already know what you need to get done to prepare for, and arrive at, your party, shower or ceremony. But taking the time to create a to-do list of these tasks will help you organize the days and hours before you attend. Do this as soon as you receive your invitation, so you have a physical reminder of what needs to happen between now and then.
• Streamline your routing.
Simple steps, such as laying out your outfit and accessories and packing gifts and other things into your car the night before, means you'll be able to get ready and go with the minimal amount of fuss. Checking weather and traffic reports, as well as familiarizing yourself with routes and the day's events, will also start you off on the right track. Take these steps to avoid last-minute delays and you'll be right on time (or successfully fashionably late), every time.
One last thing.
Being fashionably late can be cool, but it just might also be polite. In fact, when we think of those glam movie stars and the fabulously rich, what we're really cluing into is their sophistication. These are folks who've attended scads of social events, and they navigate each occasion with ease. They can make their party entrance an hour "late" and yet somehow also seem right on time. The flip side of this knack is that they also know when to be punctual. Which is the true secret to being fashionably late: knowing exactly when "on time" really is, for every kind of occasion.