The social scene lately hasn’t been about the socials. It’s about celebrities—who they’re wearing, who they’re with, who they’re anxiously avoiding. Starlets have become so ubiquitous on the party circuit that they have even become spectator sport for the socials (sit next to pedigreed party fixture Marjorie Gubelmann for a spell if you’re a fellow tabloid follower).

Everybody has been gossiping about the Gossip Girls, since there is guaranteed to be at least one at any affair these days. Is Blake Lively really dating her co-star, Penn Badgley? (Yes.) Are she and Leighton Meester frenemies in real life? (They’re never seen at the same party, so you decide.) Is Meester adopting her icy Queen B persona off-screen? “Everyone expects me to be a diva, so I try to be extra friendly,” says the actress, who hit at least half a dozen parties while filming her television series.

But rather than act blasé toward the social swirl—as so many party girls do—Meester is still in awe. “I don’t even know what to think of it,” says the Florida native, who decides which bash to attend based on “if I have something to wear that day.”

She certainly turned out chic at the fund-raiser for New Yorkers for Children, which was particularly well-attended this time round by scene-stealers like Meester in a chic champagne-colored frock from sponsor Missoni, Joy Bryant in a festive Missoni print and Mary-Kate Olsen in a black headband and a 12-sizes-too-big gown that definitely missed the mark.

Meester also was part of the young Hollywood set that invaded this year’s Metropolitan Opera opening, typically a very staid affair for only Manhattan’s upper social crust (who must have been very put out indeed that the paparazzi snapped more of the stars than them). Eva Mendes took little fashion risk as she hit the event—but she was also fresh out of rehab, so perhaps her safe sartorial choices were meant to reflect her new sobriety. In waltzed Ginnifer Goodwin, Paula Patton and Diane Kruger and Joshua Jackson (who are one invitation away from attending the opening of an envelope and yet grumble about having to pose for photographers every time they’re out).

Some boldfacers dawdled during cocktails and got locked out of the first act. Even their celebrity couldn’t save them. Take Margo Stilley: “I was in what I like to think of as a very elite, very exclusive group that got stuck outside. They wouldn’t let us in even though we all said, ‘Do you know who we are?’”

In Hollywood it may be assumed that celebrities take precedence at any publicized bash, but in a time when they are the last people one expects to really buy clothes, should designers make such a big deal of them? (Sure they’re photographed, but people still have to run a business here.) Nevertheless, during a recent trip out West, Stella McCartney invited Charlize Theron, January Jones and Rashida Jones to join her for dinner at her Beverly Boulevard boutique. Good for McCartney, she had her priorities straight: “Where’s the pizza? I’m starving.”

More than any event recently, the Costume Institute’s Superheroes gala in May was swarming with A-listers. Tom, Katie, Victoria, Gisele, Jennifer and Beyoncé all greeted hosts Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Giorgio Armani in the receiving line. Compared with years past, attendance by the social set was extraordinarily low—perhaps to make room for more celebs, who seemed alarmingly open and relaxed for a change. Take Scarlett Johansson, who couldn’t stop dishing about her engagement to actor Ryan Reynolds.

The crowd left even celebrities in their own right, like Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning who was there with his wife, Abby, starstruck: “I’ve never seen anything like this.” (Yes, sports stars are the new black, as this event alone drew Manning, broadcaster and former New York Giant Tiki Barber, New England Patriot Tom Brady and New York Ranger Sean Avery, who was there despite suffering a lacerated spleen only days before.)

Since the evening’s cocktail hour, dinner and performance is all rather calculated, any shenanigans are saved for after hours. This year, Armani threw Clooney an exclusive 47th birthday bash at Bungalow 8 where every face in the room was famous. John Mayer and Fergie climbed on a banquette and sang a duet, while Katie Holmes sipped Champagne and talked with Liv Tyler about their kids. It was David Beckham’s birthday, too (the big 3-3) and so Amy Sacco brought out a second birthday cake with candles ablaze.

Most celebrity moms there had nannies who were taking care of school drop-off duties the next morning (doesn’t everyone?), and so they stayed out until the wee hours. But not Helena Christensen, who knew from past experience to call it an early night. “It’s the worst when you show up and see the other parents when you smell of alcohol.”

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