Dîner en Blanc: Pretention or Perfection?

Written by Anita

Photos by Chris Mayernik

August 30, 2016

By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Dîner en Blanc—a once-a-year outdoor dinner party held at public locations worldwide in over 70 cities. Invited guests (who learn the exact location of the event an hour or so in advance) must dress in all-white (no beige, ecru, or ivory allowed) and bring not only the gourmet food, but also the all-white tables, chairs, dishes, and linens. Guests pay $45 for the privilege and attendance is de rigueur—rain or shine.  

Although some recent press articles have decried the event as pretentious, its fans claim it is perfection. As press invited to cover this year’s event, we sought to get answers and put them in black (and white).

Dîner en Blanc started in Paris almost 30 years ago, when François Pasquier wanted to gather friends at an outdoor picnic. To facilitate them finding each other, he asked guests to dress all in white. Pasquier’s son brought the event to the U.S. several years ago. Embraced by local organizers, the first DC event was held in 2014 at a Navy Yard location and last year’s dîner was on the lawn of the Carnegie Library.

This year’s event was held at Henry Bacon Park at 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue, NW. By 5pm, guests already were meeting up with their pedestrian leaders and lining up for entry. The weather was hot, but clear and sunny, with no threat of rain. Once inside the cordoned off area, the activity was fast and furious as people set up tables, put out flowers and table decorations, and poured wine.

Once everyone was assembled and seated, group leaders gave a cue to twirl napkins overhead—the signal that dining could commence. Guests enjoyed elaborate meals to the strains of French tunes like “La Vie en Rose,” played by a live band. At meal’s end, sparklers were lit (accompanied by a soundtrack of “Burn” by Ellie Goulding) and people begin dancing and mingling. Once the trumpet sounded, attendees packed up and left without a trace.

So, what’s the verdict? Sure, cynics can find things not to like—there is a certain amount of exclusivity and, as the event has grown, things like corporate sponsorships have become the norm (Apothic Wine sponsored the entire U.S. Dîner en Blanc series and Lanson Champagne was the local sponsor, with local collaborators including Rent the Runway, Ledbury, Goorin Brothers, The Fairfax at Embassy Row Hotel, Dean & Deluca, Fabulous Charcuterie, Capital Candy Jar, Urban Stems, and Rentals to Remember.) But there is also so much to like. Similar to a good Halloween party, Virginia Gold Cup, Awesome Con, or the now sadly-defunct Screen on the Green, Dîner en Blanc gives people an excuse to dress up, go “all out” in planning something, and just have fun. People were very friendly, chatting with others, sharing food, complimenting outfits and centerpieces, and taking pictures. As others have noted, the event is diverse, attracting people of all age groups, walks of life, races, and ethnicities. And even the cynics would have to admit that the sight of 3,500 white-clad people lit by the setting summer sun is truly magical.

Perhaps things are best summed up by DC dîner attendee Sarah Sandria from Atlanta, who attended the New Orleans Dîner en Blanc in May, will go to her home city’s one next month, and plans to travel to at least three to five dîners a year. “It’s the most beautiful thing. You see so many people put so much effort into having a good time. There’s nothing pretentious about it.” We couldn’t agree more.

Click here to see all our photos from the evening, and here to see photos from the inaugural 2015 DC event.