Illustration by Sofia Bews.

Illustration by Sofia Bews.

Do you ever feel shy at parties or gatherings where you don’t know everyone? I do. Sometimes I don’t really know what to say to enter a conversation in room full of people, and I’m too nervous to go up to a group that’s already talking and just extend my hand and introduce myself.

Good thing I once read one of the worst books ever and took away a tip that would help me get conversations rolling in awkward social situations. It was called The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, and when it came out and became a bestseller in 2005, I was furious. In a nutshell, the book is about assholes who think women aren’t actual people and are in a “secret society” devoted to sleeping with as many “hot” women as possible. I read it so I could be certain no dude would ever use these “pickup artist techniques” on me. (Sidenote: Lots of guys tried and then were really surprised when I called them out on it—books become best-sellers because many, many people read them, boys.)

Anyway! One of the techniques described in The Game is called “peacocking.” Peacocking is when a man dresses normally, except for one willllllld thing, like an extra-large velvet hat or a purple satin cape or a glitter mustache. The idea is that a man will stick out in a crowd of dudebros in the bar as “the guy with the purple cape” and women will remember him, like a peacock proudly displaying its colorful tail to impress the ladies. The odd accessory also gives people an obvious thing to talk to him about, right away.

While I can think of a few people I’d be likelier to go for than “the guy with the extra-large velvet hat,” I remembered this particular tip about peacocking long after I’d finished the book. I thought about its subtler applications. I’d already noticed that people (other women, especially), would often use outfit, hair, or makeup-related details to strike up a conversation with women they’d just met. (Sidenote: This is not exactly as it should be; women are so often taken only at face value, as if how they looked is literally the only thing of note about them.) But…what if I deliberately “peacocked” at a party where I didn’t know anyone, to give people a conversation-opener with me if I was feeling shy? Nothing too intense—I wasn’t thinking about wearing a costume or to be strange just for strangeness’s sake. I was not going to wear a satin cape (no shade to satin capes). But I sucked at talking to new people! Peacocking was worth a shot.

I decided to try wearing dramatically large hoop earrings (a parrot could have perched on these things) the next time I attended a party where I didn’t know many people. And let me tell you something: It worked so well. All night long, strangers were coming up to me and my enormous hoop earrings, joking with me about how the hoops touched my shoulders and asking if they could put their hands through them. A game was started in which several new friends tried to shoot straw wrappers though my hoops. People asked me where I got them and if they were heavy; they complimented the hoops and talked to me first, without my having to do anything. Peacocking worked! Instant conversations with strangers!

If you’re feeling a bit shy about going to an event, a gentle peacocking approach might help you, too! A funny T-shirt works well, as do snazzy shoes or a bag shaped like something other than a bag. You could try dangling, eye-catching earrings, a jacket covered with lots of patches, or a button that says something clever in big letters. So many things could work here! A dramatic lip color, leggings with a great print…you get the idea. If you want people to approach you first, subtle peacocking gives them the opener they might be looking for. I really hate The Game, but…thanks? I guess? ♦