Art of the Social Climb
First of all, social climbing is a rigged game. It begins with a slight, felt-covered directory officially called "The Social List," but known by all simply as "the Green Book." While not what it once was, it still has cachet. Its credibility falters, because while every ambitious socialite has to negotiate his/her way in, political appointees, Supreme Court justices, diplomats and other office holders are bestowed automatic, unfiltered entry. The President and First Lady, for example, while hardly part of the local social scene, are at the top of the list. You ask, "So, why bother?" You bother because getting on the Green Book is a main avenue from where all good invitations flow, and life in Washington without good invitations is like summer in the Hamptons without a good house.
Social climbing in Washington is open to anyone who wants to play. For the price of a few outfits, some charity ball tickets, an aura of hotness and some practiced smart conversation, you get a foothold on the starting line. Once the gun goes off, though, it's every hostess, art-world vixen, PR maven, lobbyist, network anchor, columnist, blogger, shop owner, chef, plaything, suburban do-gooder, car dealer, realtor and interior decorator for him or herself. A slight advantage is given to "lottery winners," meaning those nouveaux riches who made a good dot.com investment or inherited a trust fund from a parent's hard labors. Should one of them become a million dollars less generous; however, they and their McLean or Potomac McMansion are as out as O.J. And don't give me that stuff about "but they were so nice." Social climbers become nice only after they've reached the summit.
Oh, you say, but at least the social race here is not insane like it is in New York, where the poor darlings get ranked publicly and daily on socialiterank.com (Tinsley's #1 and holding, but Fabiola and Rachel are moving up fast), or are chronicled, photographed and psychoanalyzed every night by David Patrick Columbia in nysocialdiary.com. It's a Manolo Blahnik mosh pit in the 10021 zipcode. It's different in Washington, because this is a company town, and most dedicated climbers actually have jobs. Washingtonians have to work while they try to maneuver the hellish matrix that is Carolyn Peachy's utterly exclusive, tightly controlled and decisive A-list. It's the alternate Green Book; a more modern reflection of who's gaining ground, just like this very publication's own Social List.
My favorites in the current Washington social climb are a bachelor doctor with dough and serious intellectual pedigree, but who is hosting a few too many parties; a political fundraiser who is smart and beautiful but lacking self-confidence; a heat-seeking museum diva who arrived from the Midwest, uses people as rungs but discards each as she climbs to the next level (Mr. Strange and I were rungs two and three); and a high-wattage political pop tart, with a fondness for travel, who one beau described as "dangerous as a house on fire - you know you shouldn't run in, but you do anyway." They could become part of the firmament because each appears good for the long game, has intuitive skills, is generous, and ascends as deliberately as a pro Alpinist.
But they would do well to snag a consult with stalwarts Willee and Finlay Lewis (do well by doing good), Wyatt and Tandy Dickerson (show up, smile, make it look easy) or Nini Ferguson (look good, have fun, ignore everything else). They are Hall of Famers because they know that in Washington the social climb - when done well - is not a vice, but a virtue ... and it is very good for business.