How to Select a Tablecloth for Entertaining?

A reader asked for my advice on selecting her tablecloth for a Mardi Gras dinner party she is hosting soon. I am taking this opportunity to explain a few facts that is good to remember before buying new linens for your table.

table linens at la maison simons in montreal

White damask or jacquard tablecloth looks more elegant and formal. Remember that formal china typically has a rim pattern. It used to be the only choice for formal entertaining until the Americans introduced the tradition of color tablecloths in the 1950s.

The best tablecloths are made of cotton, linens or a mixture of the two. A good wash in hot water typically get rid of the stains. In fact, it is the only case where I would recommend washing in hot water. Synthetic tablecloths are less chic but are easier to clean.

And to answer a common question: you choose between tablecloths and placemats. You do not put both on the same table. You can add a table runner with placemats on square or rectangular tables.

Fabric Napkins are a Must

Whenever I buy a tablecloth, I get the napkins, unless I want to use it exclusively for a buffet table. The napkins does not have to be the same color but they must be of the fabric and finishes.

I hear stories that in old fashioned five-star hotel, they will bring you a black napkin if you are wear black pants or a black skirt.

Fitting the Tablecloth

Aim for tablecloths that hang 10 to 15 inches on all sides to look right. Anything less than 9 inches looks cheap. In the industry, a drop of 10 to 12 inches is the lap level while the standard banquet overhang is 15 inches. You will find that some sewing on the sides may be required to achieve the perfect overhang.

For formal entertaining, a first tablecloth goes down to the floor (a drop of 30 inches) and a smaller decorative tablecloth put on top. This look is also romantic so keep it in mind for Valentine’s Day.

How to Choose the Linen Color?


The linen must enhance your dinnerware. Low contrast creates a soothing effect. Contrasting effect can look more festive. I tend to favor the contrasts for my party tabletops because it is more dramatic.

Here is a trick to do before you rush to the store. Do some color testing at home with a place setting including the glassware and flatware. If you already selected your centerpieces, add them to the test. Lay out on your table solid color clothes or any fabrics you have, assemble a place setting with the china, glassware and flatware to see which one looks the best. Then, you will know what color to look for at the store.

Matching patterns is more complex. I usually bring a plate to the store to make sure they go together.

The pictures are tablecloths exclusively available at La Maison Simons, a retailer with stores in Quebec city and in Montreal. This is where I buy most of my tablecloths for everyday dining and casual entertaining.

+ La Maison Simons – from $14.99 to $89.95 for tablecloths

  • Custom Tablecloth Maker
    March 13, 2009 at 13:12

    I always struggle finding the perfect tablecloth for entertaining. Thank you so much for your suggestions, I feel like I have a better grasp on what I should be looking for now!