Etiquetteer Takes the Proust Questionnaire, Vol. 15, Issue 4

Apparently the late David Bowie once took the Proust Questionnaire, which inspired Etiquetteer to do the same, although Etiquetteer used the version that's on Wikipedia: Your favorite virtue: Situational awareness.

Your favorite qualities in a man: discretion, penmanship, pocket squares.

Your favorite qualities in a woman: elegance, "a soft, low voice as clear as silver and as perfect in articulation as the notes of a thrush" in the words of O. Henry, and the ability to freeze unwanted attention.

Your chief characteristic: Being a character.

What you appreciate the most in your friends: Promptness.

Your main fault: Finding fault.

Your favorite occupation: Conversation at table that doesn't concern table manners.

Your idea of happiness: A world in which everyone is properly dressed.

Your idea of misery: Walmart.

If not yourself, who would you be? J. B. West, Chief Usher of the White House; or Robert de Montesquiou, or Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough.

Where would you like to live? Paris, Venice, and/or Budapest.

Your favorite color and flower: Blue/Jacqueminot roses and Malmaison carnations.

Your favorite prose authors: Edith Wharton, Emily Post, and Patrick Dennis.

Your favorite poets: William Shakespeare, Dorothy Parker, and Ogden Nash.

Your favorite heroes in fiction: Newland Archer, Dorian Gray, Paul in Willa Cather’s “Paul’s Case."

Your favorite heroines in fiction: Marmee in Little Women and the Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons.

Your favorite painters and composers: Painters: William Paxton, John Singer Sargent; Composers: Johann Strauss and Franz Lehar.

Your heroes in real life: my father.

Your favorite heroines in real life: my mother.

What characters in history do you most dislike: invading armies, whether military or shopping.

Your heroines in world history: Misia Sert, Dolley Madison, Dorothy Draper, and Eleanor of Acquitaine, who gave civilization the tablecloth.

Your favorite food and drink: macarons and champagne.

Your favorite names: Etiquetteer. Just Etiquetteer, not "The Etiquetteer."

What I hate the most: those who reject Perfect Propriety in the name of Personal Choice; they neglect the feelings of others.

World history characters I hate the most: Stalin.

The military event I admire the most: The Peace of Westphalia.

The reform(s) I admire the most: the defeat of the corset, the Repeal of Prohibition, and the demise of the formal leaving of calling cards.

The natural talent I’d like to be gifted with: the ability to snap my fingers (and be obeyed when doing so).

How I wish to die: punctually.

What is your present state of mind: cautiously optimistic.

For what fault have you most toleration: being called “The Etiquetteer.” One does not say, for instance, “The Cher,” or “The Beyoncé."

Your favorite motto: "I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again." - Etienne de Grellet

The Clothes of a Gentleman, Vol. 8, Issue 6

Dear Etiquetteer: I enjoy wearing white tie to the opera, despite the snide comments from the sartorially challenged. My problem is finding the appropriate tie. I was taught that since white tie is highly formal, the tie should be restrained and have very little flare. My old tie is nearly worn out, and the only white bows available are practically the size and shape of Luna moths. Am I overly restrictive in what I think look appropriate for white tie (and on me for that matter) or is this another failure of the American clothing industry? There is no rush for this question; the opera company has gone on hiatus due to "the current economic situation."

And, by the way, what is appropriate (non-funeral) attire for those mourning the loss of a close friend? Is there such a thing?

Dear Tied:

Etiquetteer thinks you have not been searching broadly on-line for a new white tie. If you visit Beau Ties Ltd. and order your choice of bow ties in "Very Slim Line," your need for an absence of flair will be met with Perfect Propriety.

Etiquetteer also enjoys white tie. But in an age where only ambassadors, conductors, magicians, and community theatre choruses wear it, Etiquetteer must regretfully advise caution. If you are the only gentleman in the audience so attired, you may not be making the impression you wish. Parvenus, more than ever, are to be shunned. And you would appear even more so wearing white tie in the balconies. White tie belongs without question in the orchestra or the boxes, but not above them. "Dress Circle," alas, is a distinction in name only.

Emily Post, may she rest in peace, used to refer to a "brilliant opera night" when the ruling matrons decided among themselves that extra jewelry would be worn, usually if someone was giving a ball that night. This reminds Etiquetteer, of course, of Regina Beaufort in The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton's greatest novel, departing at some point before the end of the third act, thereby signalling the start of her ball after the performance.

As for mourning clothes outside a funeral, the custom has all but disappeared. The original purpose of mourning clothes was to deflect unwelcome attention, but Etiquetteer has to wonder if your purpose is really to show respect for the dead. Gentlemen used to wear a black armband over their right coatsleeve during mourning, which would now be considered ostentatious. Just wearing black won't do, since it's still considered so hip and edgy by so many. (Ladies could also be mistaken for bridesmaids, to Etiquetteer's continued chagrin.) And most people today are too oblivious to color distinctions even to recognize half-mourning, which is the absence of blue, red, yellow, and green.

The only thing Etiquetteer can recommend that would be universally recognized as a gesture of mourning is the memorial button, often seen with a picture of the deceased, handed out at so many funerals. To wear such a button on your lapel ought to let even the most thick-headed lout know that you're mourning someone who died recently. And by recently, Etiquetteer means "within the last month." For good or ill, usually the former, it's no longer customary to wear mourning after the funeral. 

Dear Etiquetteer:

What is your opinion about wearing a bow tie with a sweater?

Dear Sweating:

Would it surprise you to learn that Etiquetteer doesn't really have an opinion? Etiquetteer can't really find anything wrong with wearing a bow tie with a sweater, nor a requirement that one must. So by all means, tie one on! As a guideline, not a rule, Etiquetteer would suggest pairing bow ties with crew neck sweaters and neckties with V-neck sweaters.

Etiquetteer has a new address for all your manners queries, queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com.

Invitations and Wedding Matters, Vol. 7, Issue 10

Dear Etiquetteer:

I’ve been invited to a brunch from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM. What’s an appropriate time to arrive? Dear Invited:When to arrive at any type of party seems to baffle many people, so Etiquetteer thanks you for the opportunity to present a few examples:

  • When you’re invited to a brunch that goes from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM, arrive at 11:00 AM. 
  • When you’re invited to a dinner party for 8:00 PM, arrive at 8:00 PM. 
  • When you’re invited to an evening party and the invitation says 9:00 PM, arrive at 9:00 PM.
  • If you and a friend decide to meet for drinks at 6:00 PM, meet at 6:00 PM.

Are you picking up a trend here? Etiquetteer certainly hopes so, because it should be perfectly obvious that you arrive at a party when the party starts. “Fashionable lateness” is a fraud perpetuated by the Lazy and the Perpetually Tardy. Etiquetteer has long said that “For Maximum Fun Potential, arrive punctually.”This also keeps your hosts from fretting that no one will ever get there.Every rule has its exceptions, of course:

  • When you are invited to a church wedding, you may arrive up to half an hour early for the music. Do NOT expect to be seated after the procession has started! 
  • Any time “ish” is added to an invitation, add 15 minutes. If a friend says “Let’s get together about six-ish,” you can show up any time between 6:00 and 6:15. 6:30 is pushing it, and 6:45 is downright rude. 
  • “Open house” invitations mean you can arrive any time during the party and remain Perfectly Proper. Indeed, Etiquetteer just attended a lovely open house that went from 2:00 – 9:00 PM one Saturday. People came and went throughout and the hosts received them happily whenever they appeared. (Etiquetteer cannot assume that you brunch invitation was an “open house” since you don’t use those words.) 

Oddly enough, the occasion when promptness is most important is not for a party at someone’s home, but when one is dining with a large party in a restaurant that will only seat complete parties. Dear Etiquetteer:I’m getting married soon, and want to know if it’s OK to include a link to our gift registry on our wedding website. So many people ask it seems like it will be easier. Dear Bride to Be:It depends on how greedy you want to appear. If you don’t mind at all that people will think you are a grasping, selfish young lady who is only inviting people to her wedding because of the gifts she expects to receive, then by all means, post a link.Please forgive Etiquetteer’s Moment of Temper. You are very correct that a large number of guests at any wedding will ask about what a couple might want as a gift. But not everyone does, far from it. Create a registry page, by all means, but don’t provide a link to it from your wedding home page. When your guests ask you or your mother (these questions still frequently come to the bride’s mother), e-mail them the link to the registry. In this way, Perfect Propriety is preserved.And if your mother doesn’t have e-mail (still a possibility) she can go back to the old-fashioned way and tell the querents “Oh, they’re registered at [Insert Name of Retailer Here]. Just ask for the list.” Dear Etiquetteer:What should I wear to a wedding in April?Dear Guest Appearance:Regardless of the time of year, take your cues from the invitation. For an evening wedding, if it says “black tie” or one of its many tiresome variations such as “festive black tie” or “creative black tie,” then a tuxedo for the gentleman and a long gown for the lady is most Perfectly Proper.Assuming that you are invited to a wedding that begins before 5:00 PM, gentlemen would wear dark business suits and ladies could wear day dresses or suits. Etiquetteer immediately thinks of those nubbly wool Chanel suits of the early 1960s. Add a hat, and Etiquetteer will love you forever. If April in your region is cold, this is also the time to get out your fur piece. Etiquetteer remembers Edith Wharton’s amusing description of “all the old ladies of both families” at Newland Archer’s wedding to May Welland. The wedding was in earliest April, and the ladies in question had all dug out their grandmother’s fur pelisses, scarves, tippets, and muffs for the occasion . . . so much so that Newland Archer noticed the smell of camphor over the wedding flowers.

White and Other Weddings, Vol. 5, Issue 7

Etiquetteer has been exceedingly interested in the responses to date to Etiquetteer’s Wedding Survey. So many attitudes have been expressed about the color of the bridal gown that this a good time for Etiquetteer to delve into some of the history surrounding this garment. Etiquetteer was surprised several years ago to learn that brides in ancient Rome wore gowns and veils of flaming orange. (Etiquetteer has not learned why this color was chosen; if you have any ideas, please inform Etiquetteer at once.) The first instance Etiquetteer has heard of a white wedding gown was the first wedding of Mary, Queen of Scots, to Francis II in 1558. Mary knew how to dress to impress, and she chose a white gown for her wedding, with magnificent jewels, knowing it would set off her skin and rich auburn hair to perfection. But unrelieved white was what court ladies had always worn in mourning, so Mary’s choice raised a few regal eyebrows. Mary’s attire for her other two weddings was equally unconventional, which ought to comfort brides eager to make their weddings ostentatiously individual. When Mary married Lord Darnley in 1565, she approached the altar as the widow of Francis II in the deuil blanc, the rigidly presecribed mourning white of the French court. Between the nuptial mass and the feasting, Mary devised a ceremony in her bedchamber where each of the nobles present would remove a pin from her wedding veil. She then changed into another gown for the two banquets and dancing that followed. At her 1567 marriage to the Earl of Bothwell, three months after the murder of Lord Darnley, Mary appeared in alleged mourning, elaborately gold-embroidered black velvet with a white veil. And then, of course, everything fell apart: Bothwell was imprisoned in Scandinavia and Mary had her head cut off by Elizabeth I. You see what happens when a bride wears black? Mary may have started a royal trend with her white wedding gown. The next Etiquetteer hears of it, George III’s eldest daughter, the Princess Royal, is preparing a white silk wedding gown for her own wedding. Because her groom was a widower, she was supposed to have gold embroidery, but her mother the Queen permitted her to use silver instead. Perhaps silver is purer than gold? Of course the most famous example of the white gown, the one that started the craze at every level of society, was the beautiful white satin dress Queen Victoria wore at her marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1840. Before that, Etiquetteer imagines everyone just trotted out their best dresses whatever the color. But Victoria changed all that, and a white satin wedding gown became the default for generations. Indeed, this mania even gets mentioned in Gone With the Wind. Rhett Butler ends up smuggling in a bolt of white satin for Maybelle Merriwether after all the wedding gowns in the Confederacy were cut up to make flags. Of course, back in the day wedding finery was thought only Perfectly Proper for younger brides. Once you got to what Jane Austen called "the years of danger" elaborate weddings were not considered in the best of taste, because they unflatteringly called attention to the bride’s age. In Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, Mrs. Archer has been saving her own wedding gown (white satin, of course) for her daughter Janey. "Though poor Janey was reaching the age when pearl gray poplin and no bridesmaids would be thought more ‘appropriate.’" Even Letitia Baldrige, who married in 1963 at age 37, chose a knee-length white suit and a white fur hat with veil rather than a full-length wedding gown. To her, one just didn’t do that after age 32. Now, of course, first-time brides older than 25 are much more common, and this silly stigma has been lifted. Still, Etiquetteer always advises to dress appropriately to one’s age. It’s no good pretending you’re 19-year-old Miss Dewy Freshness drifting down the aisle on a cloud of tulle to the arms of 22-year-old Mr. Manley Firmness when you aren’t. Etiquetteer has been surprised to hear from several people who just don’t like white for brides. This sharp opinion made Etiquetteer think about his grandmothers, neither of whom married in white. About 1919 Etiquetteer’s paternal grandparents married in a daytime ceremony. Held in the parlor of the bride’s family’s New Orleans boardinghouse, the bride wore a green daytime suit with fur scarf and matching hat; the groom wore his World War I army uniform because he couldn’t afford a suit. Having no idea she was imitating the Roman brides of yore, Etiquetteer’s beloved maternal grandmother sewed and embroidered an exquisite dancing dress of bright orange crepe for her wedding in 1920. Attending a Leap Day dance with her sweetheart, they surprised everyone by leading the Grand March, which turned out to be the famous march from Lohengrin we all know as "Here Comes the Bride." A justice of the peace met them at the end and married them in the presence of the astonished and delighted company. So you see that brides can get away with colors, but Etiquetteer just can’t approve of red for Western brides. Red, of course, is the color that Asian brides have worn for centuries, but in the West red is still the color of harlotry (as in "red-light district.") We have only to look at Madonna, who wore a strapless red gown to her wedding to fiery actor Sean Penn in 1985. Of course they got divorced in 1989; see what happens when the bride wears red? Some references for those who are interested: Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, by John Guy Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III, by Flora Fraser Persuasion, by Jane Austen The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell A Lady, First, by Letitia Baldrige

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