Signs of the Times, Vol. 15, Issue 44

Etiquetteer remains fascinated by etiquette signage in public. Herewith, a brief photo essay:

Etiquetteer trembles to think about the experience that led to this sign being posted.

Etiquetteer trembles to think about the experience that led to this sign being posted.

When shopkeepers feel the need to start posting signs like this, it might really be time to decide if keeping a shop is the right occupation.

When shopkeepers feel the need to start posting signs like this, it might really be time to decide if keeping a shop is the right occupation.

Blunt, but perhaps necessary if shoppers are befuddled by the fumes of the, uh, incense. Still, Etiquetteer thinks name calling is so ugly and certainly detracts from a positive customer experience.

Blunt, but perhaps necessary if shoppers are befuddled by the fumes of the, uh, incense. Still, Etiquetteer thinks name calling is so ugly and certainly detracts from a positive customer experience.

It's a sad day when Art cannot be recognized for what it is.

It's a sad day when Art cannot be recognized for what it is.

A Perfectly Proper example of an instructional sign.

A Perfectly Proper example of an instructional sign.

Etiquetteer wishes it wasn't necessary for signs such as these to be posted. Everyone should know how to behave at a memorial, and want to behave that way.

Etiquetteer wishes it wasn't necessary for signs such as these to be posted. Everyone should know how to behave at a memorial, and want to behave that way.

In other words, Customers Only.

In other words, Customers Only.

Customer Service: Massage Studio, Vol. 15, Issue 43

Dear Etiquetteer:

I own a very successful clinical massage studio. Occasionally clients will come in, have a great session, leave very grateful and smiling (having given a nice gratuity), and in the next day or two, call back and say they were not happy with their session and ask for a free one or a refund. It's so very rare that clients are not happy. When some clients aren't, they typically immediately address it with the massage therapist or the receptionist directly after their appointment. We always provide discounts and follow-up on people who are unsatisfied (one even wrote a review saying they appreciated the free session and that they were happy we made it right).

My question for you is, how can we dissuade would-be scammers from trying to get free work? It's so rare that anyone is unhappy, and it's hard not feel exploited when people who seemed thrilled with their session call days later asking for a free one, claiming to be unhappy.

Dear Massaging:

Etiquetteer sympathizes with your feelings of exploitation. This condition is not limited to your situation, alas. Etiquetteer has long said that you really know how successful your party was based on what the guests say three weeks later; it's not always what they said when they left. Your query even reminded Etiquetteer of a couple who were banned for life by a cruise line because of the number and volume of their complaints. But that seems rather extreme for your studio, especially as you say it's a rare occurrence.

You and your colleagues have the opportunity to let clients know that their feedback is both important, and will be taken at their word. Does your massage studio use one of those intake forms that some other studios use? You might add to it a checkbox with something along the lines of "Your honest and candid feedback about your massage experience will help us serve you better at future appointments. As the client, it's your responsibility to bring to our attention any problems or concerns during and immediately after your massage." It could also be a placard in each massage room.

Perhaps you could invite them to record their comments in a guest book on site, before they leave? Another possibility: next-day follow-up with clients you find suspiciously satisfied to see how they feel - and perhaps to schedule another appointment. Use their feedback in your message.

Etiquetteer wishes you and your colleagues continued success in practicing your healing arts on appreciative and grateful clients.

Means of Communications, Vol. 15, Issue 42

Dear Etiquetteer:

I’ve been thinking about an Etiquetteer subject . . . I wonder if you've covered it? It doesn't necessarily speak well of me, but it's an issue I sometimes face . . . If I COULD, I think I'd be quite happy to live without a phone. I love email and "snail mail", but really am not at my best on the phone . . . There are exceptions . . . Some people I know are delightful via any means of communication!

Now, one thing I often hear from a handful of people is, "You are SO difficult to get in touch with. You NEVER answer your phone!" If it's someone I want to communicate with but don't love chatting with, I'll remind them that the best way to reach me is by email. These people don't take the hint and keep and continue to call and complain.

The question: does having a phone obligate me to use it? Are we free to tell people how best to communicate with us? Are we obligated to reach out to people in the way that suits THEM best? (I think "yes" and try to communicate in the way that works best for the person I'm trying to reach.)

I should note that this question is in relation to personal, not "business" contacts and refers to people that one is not particularly close to. Acquaintances, semi-close acquaintances, some personal business . . . You get the drift!

Dear Over-Phoned:

So, how can personal preference be accommodated in the method of one-on-one social communications? You have illustrated the problem beautifully. Everyone wants to communicate using the method that they prefer themselves, which is not always the method preferred by their correspondents. Sometimes these preferences are generational. Etiquetteer knows octogenarians who have never taken to the Internet and insist on phone or written communications. Often the hearing-impaired prefer written or electronic communication. And then there are all the various forms of social media - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr, Snapchat, etc. - most of which have private message functions. Not to mention video phone capabilities such as Skype. Too many possible preferences!

Etiquetteer prefers email, but then misses out on hearing from the growing number of people who prefer texting. And sometimes Etiquetteer has had to reply to a text, “I’ll email. Too long to text.” (Etiquetteer has always felt that texting should remain a brief, telegraphic means of communication, and has been surprised, discouraged, and intimidated at how it’s become another form of email.)

So no, you’re not obligated to use your phone (or other communications media, really) to communicate with anyone. These are like the servant at the door who replies “Madam is not at home” when callers appear at inconvenient times. But then, whose preference should take precedence? Probably the method that both correspondents can use with the least inconvenience. In your case, email should be used since you’ve stated you prefer it. But if your correspondent is unable to use email, or finds typing extremely difficult and time-consuming, Etiquetteer encourages you to reconsider. Having to take 20 minutes to type three sentences is too great a burden.

As to your social acquaintances who can’t take a hint, you will have to give them the facts. “You’re absolutely right. I never DO answer the phone because I don’t like to talk on the phone. It’s easy to get in touch with me by email; I prefer it so much more, and actually do respond. I’d love to hear from you that way, especially now that you know I hate the phone!” You could, if so inclined, underscore the point by emailing the next day on a topic of mutual interest. If they continue to attempt telephoning, well, you’ve done what you can.

Post-Wedding Lovely Notes, Vol. 15, Issue 41

Dear Etiquetteer:

Because I faithfully read your blog, i know you can answer this for me. My husband and I recently got married and threw quite the party the next day after the ceremony. Is it wrong to not expect any thank-you notes from the guests for this event? I was diligent in sending immediate thank-yous to all who attended. Why do people not send thank you notes to those who have hosted a reception? Thank you in advance for your answer.

Dear Married:

First, allow Etiquetteer to congratulate you on your marriage and to wish you and your husband a long, happy, and Perfectly Proper life together.

It's always Perfectly Proper for party guests to send a Lovely Note after a party. How does a wedding differ from a party? In this case, it's a wedding hosted by the honorees, the Happy Couple Themselves. It's perhaps more usual for wedding guests to feel that they should be thanked by the Happy Couple for a wedding gift and, increasingly, for the time, expense, and trouble it takes to attend a wedding (especially for those traveling a great distance). Etiquetteer once advocated (perhaps - embarrassingly, Etiquetteer can't find the reference) for Lovely Notes to be sent to the Parents of the Happy Couple following a wedding, and then had to stop and think when Etiquetteer might have done that at the many weddings attended over a lifetime. The answer was close to two or three times only. Oops.

So, while Etiquetteer shares your disappointment that your wedding guests didn't think to send a Lovely Note, you're encouraged not to take it personally, and to focus instead on their sincere joy expressed personally at your wedding celebration.

Social Speech, Vol. 15, Issue 39

The question "How are you?" as a greeting was created only to get the conversational ball rolling - verbal oil, if you will, on possibly troubled waters. It need not be answered truthfully. There are ways and ways to respond.

The most Perfectly Proper response is, of course, "Very well, thank you. And you?" whether or not you are, in fact, very well. Etiquetteer's beloved Ellen Maury Slayden so decreed to her nieces, who she admonished for answering "Fine."* One could also deflect to the weather ("Beautiful day!") or the greeter ("Better for seeing you, my dear"). For those who are scrupulously honest but in a bad mood, Etiquetteer remembers from years ago a woman who would simply answer "Thank you," acknowledging the consideration of being asked, but not divulging her True Inner State. But this can seem rather brusque, and even call attention to one's reserve.

What ought to be avoided are an accounting of Negative Physical Symptoms. No one needs an Organ Recital of one's various ailments and pains - unless one is being greeted in a hospital bed. Etiquetteer also recommends avoiding comments on the political scene, especially in an election year. Etiquetteer will never forget greeting a Somewhat Eccentric Elderly Lady with a "How are you this evening?" and getting a somewhat hazy doom-and-gloom scenario on the Political Crisis of the Moment.

Please, ladies and gentlemen, spare us all and give us a nice "Very well, thank you!"

And please spare us all a speech. Any response to "How are you?" shouldn't take more than six words.

*"Fine," of course, is yet another example of Improper Slang that grew with frequent use to become Perfectly Proper." Etiquetteer has been known to shoot a look at That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much, who will often answer with "Fine as frog's hair," aping Richard Cromwell in Jezebel (1938).

Etiquetteer Goes to New York, Vol. 15, Issue 38

Etiquetteer makes a foray to New York City every so often to check out conditions of Perfect Propriety. Because of its sheer size and the robust diversity of its population, Manhattan might be considered an ongoing etiquette experiment. Three observations:

WALKING: It almost doesn't matter where you are in Manhattan, you are sure to be in someone's way, and someone is sure to think that you are in their way. In fact, the sheer volume of people on city sidewalks has become so compressed that locals are risking their lives to walk in the streets in order to get anywhere. Etiquetteer thinks it's more than helpful to know where you're going and how to get there before you leave your hotel room; surprisingly few don't. Remain aware of where you are in relation to other people while you're out on the Sidewalks of New York.

STAYING WITH FRIENDS: Etiquetteer was so very blessed to have a Hospitable Friend in New York who offered accommodations. The Hospitable Friend arranged many comforts for Etiquetteer, from chocolate scones, computer and wireless access (how marvelous, and how essential in this century!), wooden hangers, retail and other recommendations, freedom for Etiquetteer to pursue the city at leisure, and (in a city of one million sounds) privacy. Etiquetteer could not have been more fortunate.

"Such hospitality deserves my thanks!" as Hercule Poirot says in Murder on the Orient Express, but many houseguests are not sure what to do or how far to go. Hosting one's host to a meal is (or should be) an inviolate custom, and "a good time was had by all" at a mighty fine Restaurant Celebrating Regional Cuisine Other Than That of Manhattan. The question of the traditional "hostess gift" was a little more challenging, and where Etiquetteer relied on conversational clues. Hospitable Friend, not knowing Etiquetteer was looking for hints, spoke about having a Christmas tree for the first time in a new home. Etiquetteer's light bulb went off, and two lovely ornaments were received happily. Flowers, of course, are traditional -- and easy to find all over New York -- but don't last as long as friendships.

ATTENDING THE THEATRE: Forget what you heard about New York audiences being more stylish and sophisticated. Middle-class America no longer cares to keep up appearances here, either. The age of evening clothes in the theatre has irrevocably ended, but Etiquetteer would think that gentlemen would at least present themselves in a suit and tie, and ladies in something equally dressy. And indeed, the number of people attending the theatre with huge luggage, especially backpacks, continues to mystify Etiquetteer. (Of course, That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much sat through a performance of Sweeney Todd some years ago with a huge backpack jammed under his seat and a gigantic valise in his lap since he had to catch a train immediately after the matinée.) All of us ought to examine the amount of stuff we tote about with us daily, and make reductions. For ladies especially, a handbag of moderate size is much more elegant than a backpack, or even one of those fashionable but unwieldy satchels called a "purse."

At least New Yorkers are fiercely punctual, management taking an appropriately dim view of late arrivals. Latecomers know in advance that if they arrive after the curtain has risen, they can't be seated. Bostonian audiences are notoriously tardy, and Etiquetteer, who is notoriously not, is getting mighty tired of hearing the usual excuses about traffic, parking, and subway delays. Etiquetteer will always side with those who came on time, and whose enjoyment of the performance is marred by late arrivals.

 

The Etiquette of Activism. Vol. 15, Issue 37

“What,” a friend asked a few months ago, “is the etiquette of activism?” Courtesy and activism are not mutually exclusive, though many assume so. It could be argued that much activist behavior is Not Perfectly Proper, and Etiquetteer would have to agree. But multiple forms of activism are necessary for positive change to take place, a position Etiquetteer didn’t fully understand until reading years ago Martin Duberman’s history of the start of the gay rights movement, Stonewall. His account of the July Fourth meeting of the Mattachine Society illustrates this, with one woman’s plea for good behavior (“We should be firm, but just as amicable and sweet as —“) met with the fierce need for confrontation (“Sweet? Sweet! Bull****! . . . We have got to radicalize . . .”) And witness the sweeping changes in the last 47 years. Americans are having these discussions again now, today, finding once more the creative tension between assimilation and defiance, between words spoken in quiet hope and others shouted in raw outrage, all requiring urgent change.

But doesn’t it seem prim and prissy to associate a word like “etiquette” with a word like “activism” anyway? Does it matter if that clenched fist has a white glove on it? Etiquette is part of every aspect of our daily lives - why should activism be any different?

First, anger is a valid, even a necessary, emotion, but you're supposed to dominate it. Unharnessed anger leads to actions that harm one’s cause, such as violence and death threats, which are unacceptable. Etiquetteer supports efforts to recall the judge in the Stanford rape case, but not the threats of violence and death heaped on him and his family via the Internet. Open, spirited, vigorous questioning - not intimidation - should be part of every political system, especially the American system.

Second, think about your motives. Be brutally honest about your goals for your cause and for yourself. Do you want progress or effective change on a certain issue? Is your first purpose to vent your anger or other emotions? Are you looking for an excuse to attract attention to yourself, possibly with arrest? If your reasons veer more toward the last two questions, Etiquetteer urges you to reconsider. That’s more exhibitionism than activism. The cause belongs in the spotlight; you don’t.

Third, recognize the humanity of the other side, and show your humanity to them. Many find this difficult, especially the former. Everyone has traveled a different journey to realize what is, and isn’t, important to them. This makes fear such a strong motivator in activism - fear that one’s way of life will, or will not, change for the better. Demonizing the other side does not further progress.

To that end, comments about physical appearance are out of bounds. Donald Trump’s hair and complexion are easy targets, but it’s his statements, positions, and behavior that are truly controversial. It could also be suggested that activists that stoop to unkind remarks about physical appearance really have nothing more substantive to say.

Fourth, don’t be spoonfed what’s handed to you. Responsible activitists do their own research. Read widely and wisely: Seek out and absorb not just what Your Side of the Issue at Hand is publishing, but the Other Side as well. Check your sources and theirs, too. (Etiquetteer is particularly suspicious of meme graphics interpreting varying amounts of data.) Source checking and research also helps separate the wheat from the chaff, especially with the proliferation of parody news websites, always eager to hoodwink the hotheaded.* And if you're going to post an article on social media, for mercy's sake, read the whole thing first.

Finally, when motivated to correspond or comment, stay on topic. Don’t get distracted by side issues, such as debating the proper use of hashtags or acronyms. Just say what you have to say, and back it up with data if necessary. There will be disagreements. Keep your cool. Ask yourself if profanity helps or hurts your argument. (Likely it won’t.) And don’t feel the trolls. Never feed the trolls! They’re only in it for the lulz.

Etiquetteer can think of no better way to close these instructions than by invoking the late Martin Luther King, Jr., who famously included in one of his speeches “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

***

Now this is Robert talking.

You may wonder why I feel moved to write on this untraditional topic for an etiquette column. It was prompted in part by a local scandal last spring that a friend told me about: the Boston Pride Committee revocation of its invitation to Anthony Imperioso of the New England Gay Officers Action League because of offensive posts he made on social media. I was impressed by the time, attention, commitment, and passion for those aware of the officer’s comments to bring them to the attention of the committee.

That was at the beginning of April. What has happened since then makes that situation seem a tempest in a teapot. June 6 saw the Stanford Rapist receive a mere six months in prison for brutally raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. June 12 saw the tragic killing of 49 people in the Orlando gay nightclub Pulse, the largest mass killing in the United States since 9/11. July 5 saw the horrifying police shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. And now, July 6, the even more horrifying police shooting of Philando Castile - more horrifying because a four-year-old child was present. All these incidents make even the nightmarish vulgarity of the 2016 presidential election pale in comparison. I am horrified by the killings, angry at the corruption and deception, and despairing at the tone of the national dialogue. How on earth are we going to get anywhere with all this deranged yelling?!

I've followed the Internet commentary, noticing the greater and more frequent calls to take action, politically and socially, to prevent future bloodshed. More people need to get engaged, and more engaged, and more effectively engaged in advocating for what they want our society to be like. Like many, I have no idea yet how I can best be an effective advocate for change. I can’t believe that bullying, threats, and intimidation are the only options available to us. All I have to offer right now is set of guidelines, composed mostly from my reactions to bad behavior, in the news and on the Internet. So let’s get out there and make a positive difference.

*Etiquetteer is particularly contemptuous of those who, on being told that a parody news story about a particular enemy of theirs is untrue, reply “Well, it’s the kind of thing [Insert Name of Enemy Here] would do.” Except [Insert Name of Enemy Here] didn’t actually do it. Let’s not let Hatred blind us to Truth.

Signs of the Times, Vol. 15, Issue 36

From time to time Etiquetteer takes note of behavioral signs posted publicly to promote Perfect Propriety. It's a shame and a pity, really, that they have to be posted at all . . .

Reference to Bodily Function is never Perfectly Proper, but even Etiquetteer recognizes the need to defend one's property against Irresponsible Pet Owners.

Reference to Bodily Function is never Perfectly Proper, but even Etiquetteer recognizes the need to defend one's property against Irresponsible Pet Owners.

Here we have a different sort of Canine Admonition, but Etiquetteer has to wonder how successful it is.

Here we have a different sort of Canine Admonition, but Etiquetteer has to wonder how successful it is.

Unfortunately, the need for this instruction never seems to abate. Please, people,, show respect to those working behind the counter!

Unfortunately, the need for this instruction never seems to abate. Please, people,, show respect to those working behind the counter!

This rather abrupt instruction lacks any ambiguity, and just about crosses the border of Perfect Propriety.

This rather abrupt instruction lacks any ambiguity, and just about crosses the border of Perfect Propriety.

One example of trying to guide tourists into the path of Perfect Propriety.

One example of trying to guide tourists into the path of Perfect Propriety.

It should not be necessary to explain this . . .

It should not be necessary to explain this . . .

To round out this little collection, something from the service entrance.

To round out this little collection, something from the service entrance.

Email Invitations, Vol. 15, Issue 35

Dear Etiquetteer:

Has it become OK just not to respond to email invitations? When I'm traveling to cities, I'll email friends and acquaintances (individually, not as a group) with "I'm going to be in your city for a few days and if you're free I'd like to meet you for a drink or dinner or something." When I don't hear back, I have no idea what to do.

Dear inviting:

It's never Perfectly Proper to leave an invitation unanswered. Etiquetteer sympathizes with your plight. Vagueness, however, can make it more difficult for someone to think it's important enough to respond (and indeed, they might just respond "What did you have in mind?" which is even more vague about their availability). So Etiquetteer recommends more specificity. In your email, suggest a date and a location, adding "If another time and place works better, please tell me." Even more important, give your friends a deadline by which to let you know: "If you could let me know by (three days before your suggested date) it would be great. I'll check in with you closer to the time if I haven't heard fromyou." This way you set the expectation that their response is important, and that they'll hear from you until they send it.

Or, until your deadline, after which Etiquetteer absolves you of any conflicts. It's Perfectly Proper, then, to say that you made other plans after not having heard back, but say so with a tone of Infinite Regret.

Military vs. Academic Honorifics, Vol. 15, Issue 34

Dear Etiquetteer:

I'm working on some thank-you correspondence following an event, and have run into a new situation I don't know how to deal with correctly. One of the guests is an Army officer, but he also has a Ph.D. Do I use one and not the other, or do I combine them like "Col. Dr." or something? Please advise.

Dear Corresponding:

Robert Hickey, author of Honor & Respect: The Official Guide to Names, Titles, & Forms of Address, makes it pretty clear: only military titles and honorifics are used. They aren't combined with academic or other honorifics, like "Professor," or post-nominal abbreviations like "Ph.D." To Etiquetteer's surprise, this also includes religious honorifics.

Graduation Gifts, Vol. 15, Issue 33

Dear Etiquetteer:

My brother is co-hosting a high school graduation party early next month for my niece with a family on the same street that they have known for 15 years or so. The other family's boy is also graduating from the same high school. It seems that my niece and this other young man have been in a casual dating relationship for some time, although both are headed to colleges in different cities in September. I have only met the young man once (he seems very nice), but have never engaged him in a real conversation. As the party is co-hosted (in a function hall), I'm wondering whether I should bring a gift for my niece's boyfriend?

Others in the family are wondering the same thing, so thank you for your insight!

Dear Gifting:

While by no means required, Etiquetteer would consider it a Gesture of Goodwill, not only toward your niece's graduating boyfriend, but also your brother's family, to bestow a small gift on this Young Gentleman who appears to Mean Something to your niece. Well, at least he seems not to be at the stage where he Has Meant Something . . . but clearly these families are linked by 15 years of neighborliness. Your thoughtfulness will impress both him and his parents, and those good feelings will redound both on you, and your brother's family.

Some Useful Gift for College Life couldn't come amiss, but of course Etiquetteer is fond of stationery. Please, at least, think of something more original than a gift card.

Reader Response to Straw Hat Day, Vol. 15, Issue 32

Dear Etiquetteer:

A friend kindly sent me your column. As a straw hat wearer for 60 years, I must take issue with your pronouncement. Straw hats and seersucker suits are worn EITHER between Memorial Day and Labor Day OR between Shavuot and Rosh Hashanna. This has been my practice all
these decades, and I recommend it to all those who take pride in tradition and propriety.

Dear Reader:

You seem to be under the impression that Etiquetteer arbitrarily declared May 15 as Straw Hat Day - not so! In fact, it's declared by an entity other than Etiquetteer here.

Etiquetteer once thought that straw hats came out with white shoes on Memorial Day, nor even heard of Straw Hat Day until last year. Read how Etiquetteer uncovered the history of Straw Hat Day after happening upon a reference to it in Erik Larsen's Dead Wake. It's an interesting story.

 

Straw Hat Day, Vol. 15, Issue 31

Today is Straw Hat Day, the official day in 2016 for the gentlemen to retire their felt hats for the season and step out lively with their panamas or “skimmers,” the popular nickname for boater hats made famous in the 1890s and sustained today mostly by barber shop quartets. Nothing against barber shop quartets, but the skimmer needs to get out more.

To inspire you, here's a formal portrait of Etiquetteer, complete with skimmer, courtesy of JW Lenswerk.

Proper Dress for Graduates, Vol. 15, Issue 29

The season of Recognition of Educational Achievement is upon us, with high school musical ensembles across the nation rehearsing Pomp and Circumstance and the National Anthem, and Elaborate Concern about when to flip one's ring or tassel. While these affairs have become more Festivals of Applause than solemnities - somewhat to Etiquetteer's chagrin (but to harp on the point would mark Etiquetteer a killjoy, which is tedious) - their importance as a Rite of Passage has not been dimmed.

Etiquetteer does wish more graduates (and faculty, for that matter) would consider more carefully their complete appearance with cap and gown. Especially, Etiquetteer would like to advise young ladies to consider their shoes more carefully. Appearing in a lengthy academic procession in high heels of four or more inches, in which your body and face look like bamboo shoots are being driven into your toes with every step - well, people are not focused on you but on your shoes. Indeed, it may lead people to question just how well you've been educated. You deserve not to be upstaged by your own shoes! There is no shame in kitten heels. But if you must wear Heels That High, practice walking in them a lot to keep yourself from falling over or looking like you might. Look at this poor girl:

Etiquetteer also looks suspiciously on young gentlemen who are quite obviously not wearing a shirt and tie under their academic gowns. A T-shirt on an occasion of this importance does not show you at your best advantage, nor do jeans or ragged corduroys with athletic shoes poking out at the bottom. A graduation is an Occasion and it, and you, deserve to be treated with respect. Dress up!

So often, especially at college graduations, one sees elaborate decorations on mortarboards. Etiquetteer knows better than to condemn this - it's not just established, it's a beloved tradition - but it would be lovely for these not to be so elaborate that they block the view of those sitting behind them.

And with all that said, Class of 2016, get busy and change the world - in a good way.

Perfect Propriety in Summer, Vol. 15, Issue 27

Once upon a summer day Etiquetteer observed (discreetly -  it's not polite to stare) a family of four on the subway during the morning rush hour. The father wore a khaki-colored twill suit with a shirt and necktie; the mother, a two-piece navy suit with simple silk blouse, unobtrusive hose, and appropriate flat shoes (read: not athletic shoes). Their little girl, who must have been four or five, had on a clean and simple playdress. Etiquetteer can't really remember what their infant wore in his or her stroller, alas. And the thought suddenly came to Etiquetteer that, only a generation ago, that young family wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. Now, they're considered "all dressed up."

Don't fret! Etiquetteer is not about to make everyone climb back into layers and layers of clothing during the long hot summer. (Though it is interesting to observe how many people, especially ladies, carry sweaters with them in summer because of the arctic air-conditioning of so many public buildings.) Etiquetteer always remembers the words of Ellen Maury Slayden, who wrote in her diary August 3, 1914: "Last Friday the mercury went to 106 degrees ... When I was married [in 1883], returning to Texas early in September, I wore a suit of golden brown camel's hair buttoned up to my chin and finished with a stiff linen collar. I wonder I didn't go mad and run amuck."*

Etiquetteer certainly doesn't want anyone going mad and running amuck, but Etiquetteer does wish more people would consider how they present themselves with today's layers. How much skin is too much? When does "casual" turn into "sloppy?" The question of how much exposure is too much is a legitimate question, one that American tourists abroad have to take into account when visiting churches. During the summer, especially, there's such a temptation to fling on a T-shirt and pair of shorts with a pair of flip flops without caring what impression it makes. The impression it makes in churches overseas is one of Flagrant Disrespect, and tourists will be prohibited if they expose too much of their persons.

Etiquetteer observed this admonition against Sartorial Brevity at the Church of the Gesuiti in Venice in 2013.

Etiquetteer observed this admonition against Sartorial Brevity at the Church of the Gesuiti in Venice in 2013.

That said, Etiquetteer is at least glad that the trend for men is finally away from the Dreadful Knee-Eclipsing Cargo Shorts and more toward Crisp Tailored Shorts with a four- or six-inch hem. This has much less to do with showing more leg than it does with the fact that no matter how one took care of cargo shorts, they never looked pressed.

Ladies with long hair, too, are so tempted with the quick convenience of a scrunchie, not realizing or caring that the backs of their heads may look like cow patties garnished with straw.

So, what are Etiquetteer's guidelines for Perfect Propriety in Summer?

  • Prepare for perspiration. Aside from your usual toiletries, talcum powder makes this more endurable, and preserves the appearance of you and your clothes for longer in the day.
  • Your summer clothes should show no rips or tears, spots or stains. Favorite clothes that have decayed to rags Etiquetteer will permit only at the beach.** And clothes that have been fashionably cut into rags, such as T-shirts sliced into fringe and beaded, are never Perfectly Proper.
  • For the most part, your body and your undergarments (if any; don't call attention to their presence or absence) should not be visible between neckline and hemline. There's a greater risk for what is vulgarly termed "plumber's crack" during the summer; guard against this! You don't want to hear someone break into Blue Moon behind your back. The shirt you choose, whether T-shirt, polo, or buttondown, should be able to tuck securely into your trousers - whether you tuck it or not. (You should tuck it.) Ladies have a bit more leeway with halter tops and such like, of course, but bikini tops are a big no-no in the city.
  • Etiquetteer doesn't find tank tops or cami tops Perfectly Proper for town and city wear. Certainly they make an impression, but is it the one you want to make? Take a long honest look in the mirror.
  • If there are belt loops, wear a belt.
  • Linen remains a favored summer fabric. Yes, it wrinkles like the very Devil, but keep ironing. Nothing makes such a beautiful impression as a crisp white linen ensemble.

While the Official Start of the Summer Season on Memorial Day is not yet here, it never hurts to Start Preparing Early. Etiquetteer hopes that you'll enjoy contemplating the Joys of Summer - and what to wear to enjoy them - in the intervening weeks.

*From Washington Wife, Journal of Ellen Maury Slayden from 1897 - 1919.

**Indeed, Etiquetteer's very favorite old panama sustained a gash down the front of the crown, so it's only fit for the beach. But it feels like an old friend coming to visit when Etiquetteer puts it on.