With our kids staging revolts, sinks piled high with dishes, and the pressure of the global bread-baking boom hanging over us, words like “unwind” might invite an eye-roll from some. But let’s face it. As women, we need each other. And as human beings, we need laughter, conversation, and the occasional excuse to be in a room alone with other classy-when-not-exhausted friends.

Women have gathered together recreationally for hundreds of years. Take the example of the French literary salons—gatherings initiated by a forward-thinking host or salonnière to amuse, exchange ideas, and share conversation, poetry, and art. Ideally, salonnières also directed and moderated the group’s conversation (now a necessity in the Zoom era). These salons helped to break down social barriers and gave women opportunities both to shape and to enjoy the culture of their day. We have something to learn from the salonnières. These women seized the moment. They would have cheered our modern book clubs, discussion groups, and in the quarantine era: the virtual ladies’ night.

But Zoom burnout is a real thing, and at this stage in social distancing, you may be longing for connection that looks a bit different. Whether your state hasn’t lifted stay-at-home orders, you’re not feeling up for in-person gatherings yet, or you’re eager to connect with friends in different regions, a bit of planning can go a long way for moving beyond those long, awkward video calls with coworkers and relatives into the far more pleasant realm of memorable social events during quarantine. The virtual ladies’ night combines the key elements of good company, well-planned fun, and something to look forward to besides your next hot shower. So channel your inner salonnière, pick your guests, and select the theme of your choice from this step-by-step guide to hosting your own themed virtual soiree.

01. Choose a video platform

In case one of your guests is less comfortable using video, let everyone know you can test the platform with them before party night. (Set aside some time in your schedule for this so you aren’t caught off guard!) Let people know that they can change their background, if using Zoom, or install an app like Snap Camera to add silly filters and virtual accessories to your face no matter what video platform you’re using. If you already have a video platform in mind, you can skip straight to Step 2.

FaceTime

If you are an Apple user, your device comes with FaceTime. Up to thirty users can join a call at once; so if you and your crew have iPhones or iPads, this may be a top contender. Get FaceTime here.

Houseparty

Houseparty is that app that has been exploding in Europe and the United States. If you don’t have it, chances are someone will soon invite you. Up to eight people can join a call at once, and the app makes it easy to play games similar to Pictionary, Apples to Apples, and trivia. If you want no-hassle fun, pick this one—but beware that it is meant for phones or tablets and loses functionality when accessed on a laptop. Get Houseparty here.

Google Meet

To access Google Meet (formerly Google Hangouts), participants need an invitation from someone with a Google account. While that might rule this app out for some people, Google Meet easily lets users share images and videos during a call. And it works on any web browser or device. Get Google Meet here.

Zoom

Zoom is growing in popularity because of its ease of use and video and audio quality. That said, the free version ends meetings after forty minutes, so you either need to cough up money or start a new forty minute meeting if you’re thrifty (or cheap), like me. Get Zoom here.

02. Choose a theme

You might think that the first thing you can write off for a Zoom party are the refreshments. But think again! Coordinate with your guests so that you can all set up some similar drink options for yourselves and toast over Zoom.

Chic Soiree

Drink suggestions:

  • Bellini’s
  • Prosecco sparklers
  • Coconut water
  • White Claw

Make it fun: The organizer or designated game-planner will search the internet ahead of time for famous quotes from a TV show that you collectively love. When in doubt, pick Friends. The group must guess which main character said the quote (bonus points for describing the actual scene).

Tropical

Drinks for this virtual party should be fresh and tropical!

  • Piña coladas
  • Daiquiris (thank goodness virgin daiquiris taste just as good!)
  • Orange juice spiked with 7-Up
  • Another fruit juice of your choice

Make it fun: Have one of the guests play background music like the Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffet, Bob Marley, or Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. This can also become a party game. Print off song lyrics ahead of time, then read a line or two and have attendees guess who wrote them.

Disney

Choose a Disney inspired cocktail—many of which are mocktail friendly! Favorites include:

  • Mad Hatter Gin Tea
  • Fairy Dust Vodka Cider
  • Crazed Captain

Make it fun: Play Disney trivia on Sporcle, a website that lets groups harness their collective knowledge to take quizzes in a variety of formats. This works best if someone in the group can share their screen (feasible on Zoom, for example) and type the answers as the group shouts them out. This could also be done analog, if someone gathers Disney trivia ahead.

Retro

The classic sixties cocktails include:

  • Martinis
  • Cosmopolitans
  • Tom Collins

But remember: there is nothing wrong with sipping on an A&W root beer or heck, a glass of ice water, during this virtual party.

Make it fun: You can play a trivia game using a TV show like Mad Men, or something that was popular in the sixties like Gilligan’s Island. If you want to get creative, give each attendee five minutes to rewrite a famous Beatles song, and then share their parody with the group.

Country

This is the time to break out:

  • Beer
  • Country Time Lemonade
  • Whatever you want to sip from a red solo cup

Make it fun: The possibilities here are endless. If someone in the group knows how to line dance, they could give a brief tutorial. If your group is crafty, you could organize a group craft, like painting mason jars.

03. Pick an eye-catching invite to match your theme

Although a simple group text or email will certainly do in a pinch, a beautiful invitation builds anticipation.

Here are a few catchy free templates on Evite, including floral, girls’ night in, beach time, Margaritaville, retro, and cowgirl themes. And there are a whole bunch more for you to check out on Canva. Remember to include the following on your invite: instructions about attire, links to drink recipes, and encouragement for everyone to grab fitting snacks of their choice before the start time if they wish.

04. Prepare Your Look

Prepare an outfit to match your theme, and invite your guests to do so as well.

If you’re going for a simple soiree, wear your most up to date outfit. Faux leather shorts? Yes. Posh crocheted dress? Absolutely. Cotton basics from Old Navy? No worries—still on point. Carry on!

If you missed spring break, wear florals or a sundress, topped with your sunnies or sunhat. For a more costumed-theme, you can dress as your favorite Disney character or just wear their colors. For cowgirl or retro themes, you know what to do. Bring your creativity, and run with it!

05. Decide how to set the mood

Well, maybe “setting the mood” is slightly ambitious, given that arriving on time with fully functioning technology and devices charged can be challenging all by itself. But before you hop on the call, check that your light source doesn’t turn you into a jack-o’-lantern and that everyone will be able to see your face. Try to find a flat surface to seat yourself next to, so that the video camera sits close to your seated eye level. If needed, create a platform with books or a box to achieve this. For your own sake , tidy the space that is visible behind you (mostly so that you don’t spend the entire call making excuses about the clutter). Consider seating yourself in front of a bookshelf, favorite portrait, or blank wall, and placing a plant or candle near you. And of course, don’t forget to pull out snacks and mix up your drink a few minutes ahead.

06. Leave your worries behind

Once the appointed time arrives and everyone is present on video, take a moment to extend a warm welcome. This is also a great time to let guests know if you have windows of time blocked out for socializing, games, trivia, etc.

As the host, you should strive to gracefully facilitate a pleasant flow—something that can, admittedly, be difficult over video. You may need to jump in with conversation starters if there is an awkward silence or ask a thoughtful question to someone who hasn’t gotten a chance to speak. You can also do everyone a favor by keeping an eye on the clock.

Most importantly, be sure to let loose and enjoy yourself! Be sassy, be silly, be serene—whatever allows you to have a grand old time and make fun, new memories.

Ladies, it’s time to virtually assemble.