Pretty paper plates can hold flavors of Christmas in good taste

``Oriental.'' ``Southwest.'' ``Topkapi.'' ``Java.'' New china patterns from Lenox? No -- we're talking about new lines of paper plates, cups, and napkins. Now there's even designer paperware. Paper goods manufacturers, who have introduced an abundance of new fashionable hues and patterns, stretch the bounds of etiquette to include the use of paper for informal sit-down dinners. They argue for practicality as well as prettiness.

But what do the guardians of table etiquette say about entertaining in paper?

Elizabeth Post, a chronicler of changing social rules and author of ``Emily Post's Etiquette,'' says paper goods definitely have their place in today's world.

They are particularly helpful, says this mother and grandmother, during the holiday season, when people have large gatherings and invite more people than they have dishes to serve. In such a case, ``by all means'' bring on the paper plates -- but don't use half china and half paper.

Others have some reservations.

``Entertaining with paper plates and napkins is great, providing you are having a totally informal event out of doors such as a barbecue or picnic,'' says Letitia Baldrige, who has revised and expanded the Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette.

Judith Martin, author of ``Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior'' argues against using paper plates ``because any kind of food will soak through them.'' (Many of today's sturdier plates, however, are made to be leakproof.)

She disapproves of using paper even in the great outdoors, saying it is ``among the abominations that one has no right to bring to the countryside.''

``No one can eat decently from a paper plate with a plastic fork, since they both might buckle with disastrous results,''she says.

Nevertheless, Hallmark partyware planner Susan Morgenthaler says people who entertain ``are now making up their own rules about decorating and entertaining. They are using paper products in new and unexpected ways, often blending them with their own silver, china, and pottery,'' she says.

``They mix them as well with their own textiles, unusual plants, souvenirs they have brought back from foreign travels, and other popular table accessories.

``The challenge is knowing how to combine an assortment of elements to create a personalized look,'' she says.

While the carefully orchestrated, formal dinner party remains an American staple, the trend, insists Ms. Morgenthaler, is toward more spontaneous and casual home entertaining.

After surveying the entertainment patterns of 1,500 people, Hallmark learned that they are entertaining at home more often today and are using paper products for about half of all the parties they give. Some said they enjoyed having a new look each time they entertained informally.

Many of the respondents indicated that they wanted get-togethers with less fuss and bother, and that they had discovered that ``Come on over'' was replacing ``You are cordially invited'' in their entertaining vocabulary. Some said they used small colorful paper plates for appetizers and desserts and china or pottery plates for main courses.

The many new Hallmark designs feature five different plate sizes and shapes, including deep-dish banquet plates.

There are even designer paper goods now, from England's Mary Quant and New York's Diane Von Furstenberg. The Von Furstenberg line, called ``Table Dressing,'' is available on the West Coast and will be in Eastern stores in the spring. The exotic patterns are based on her travels to Bali, Java, Turkey, and Japan.

``They're designed,'' Miss Von Furstenberg says,``to serve every occasion from a festive dinner at home, to an office lunch, to a baby shower or a picnic in the park.''

``Paper is versatile,'' she says , and enables entertainers ``to create relatively inexpensive table fashion.''

``I do agree that paper things for the table have become very attractive,'' says Sally Belt, food editor of House Beautiful magazine. ``I think paper goods are OK sometimes, particularly for pizza parties and the like. I don't think they work when you have to use both a knife and a fork to cut up food.''

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