Do you really need a second set of dishes, to used only on special occasions? Of course not. But there is plenty to be said for having them anyway. Setting the table for a romantic dinner at home just doesn’t have that same je ne sais quoi if you have nothing but your sturdy old stoneware to grace the table. I just recently got out my fine china for an impromptu brunch with my mom. You should have seen her face light up!
Apparently however, few people are interested in buying fine china anymore. I sensed this trend several years ago when my husband’s nephew got married, and I asked where they had registered their wedding. The answer was “Target,” and I have to tell you, my heart kind of sank.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Target. It’s super accessible, and they have lots of items to choose from. Practical things, like crock pots and blenders, towels and picture frames, flatware and dish sets, all reasonably priced. They’ll even do gift wrap.
What they don’t have however, is the really good stuff. I’m talking about the elegant, formal dinnerware that’s NOT suitable for everyday use, not dishwasher or microwave safe. Bone china plates with silver and gold trim. Cut crystal goblets. Solid sterling silverware. The jewelry of the household.
In a previous article, I talked about why it’s a good idea to register your wedding – to help your guests choose the gifts you really want. When I got married, (and I’ll admit it was years ago), I couldn’t wait to pick out my “good” dishes. I went to an upscale department store with a hope and a prayer, and lo and behold I received 7 place settings.
Expensive? Yes. Have I broken anything yet? Why, yes I have. And because my pattern is discontinued, I’ve had to search a bit to replace that chipped teacup. It cost $17. So what? I love my fine china, and I use it. With a tablecloth and my crystal stemware and my silver flatware.
But like I said, over the last decade or so, table top trends have led consumers away from traditional fine china, and down a more casual path to the outdoor mall, streets lined with stores like Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn, with a Target or a Walmart anchoring either end.
With the exception of Walmart (I’m not a fan), these are very good merchants, and they do offer the latest looks in dinnerware at extremely reasonable price points. Bold colors, kitschy patterns, unusual materials and odd shapes have become much more popular with today’s young shoppers. They want fun dishes, not fine china, and they’ve become quite a force in tabletop marketing.
Let’s take a look at what manufacturers, advertisers, and retail outlets are telling us about what’s fashionable on today’s dinner table.
Some of these are beautiful and interesting, with intersecting lines that create precise shapes over the entire plate. Others look like optical illusions that would make me dizzy. The right pattern, though would be awesome for a classic, special-occasion table.
Big, bright, busy painted designs. While I think many of these patterns are pretty enough to hang on a wall, I wouldn’t want to eat off of them. I want my food to look good on the plate, and you can’t even see the food on these dishes.
Solid colors reminiscent of the old Fiestaware. This was what everyone thought was the ultimate in “cool” way back when. The colors are bold and they’re often textured to look like they just came out of the kiln. Nowadays you can find similar styles pretty much anywhere they sell dishes.
I really like these looks, provided they aren’t all colored in with too much pattern. I see these in restaurants a lot. They’re fun, visually interesting, and perfectly suited to a create an out-of-the-ordinary dining experience that isn’t too formal.
Bone china is still king in the realm of “good” dishes as far as I’m concerned, and it’s actually much sturdier than you may have thought. But there are other options to consider if you want something truly unique. Wood, metal, glass, stone, and ceramic dinnerware are becoming more available, and could add some fun to your next dinner party.
I have a friend who is looking forward to scouring the thrift stores in search of cool dishes to create her own set of special-occasion dinnerware. I think this idea has great potential to let you show off your tasteful style and creative artistry. Or it could all go horribly wrong. Just be careful!
Personally, I own three sets of dishes: I love my Corelle for every day. My Noritake fine china is my go-to set for intimate gatherings. Then there’s the set with the 24k gold trim that includes 12, 5-piece place settings, plus all the accessories, which I rescued from mother-in-law who was about to ship them off to the Goodwill. She visits them every Christmas now.
When it comes to your dishes, certainly you’re going to want every day plates and bowls you can safely put in the microwave and run through the dishwasher. But I say there’s still a time and place for that special second set of dishes that transports you away from your ho-hum life and makes you smile when you’re setting the table.