A Gentleman's Suits, Vol. 15, Issue 45

Dear Etiquetteer: I have found myself in the thick of the holiday suit season. I have noticed many more suits on the loose these days. With this I have also noticed many men have decided not to (or didn't know to) pull the stitch in back of the suit that keeps the fabric "split" or "box" in prime rack display. Is one supposed to always pull that stitch? Does this apply to all pockets on the blazer suit jacket as well? How would one tell a stranger that this should be fixed, so the rest of the world may not judge them on their wrinkly butt? Holiday suits abound!

Dear Suitably Suited:

Good heavens! A gentleman always cuts the large X stitch that anchors the suit vent closed before wearing. One doesn't want to walk about as though "X marks the spot." This applies whether the suit has one center vent or two side vents. Were one to leave the stitches in, one might reasonably be asked why one wanted vents in one's suit coat at all.


As we're talking about the winter holidays and suits, Etiquetteer should add that some Deft Seasonal Touches are always Perfectly Proper with a suit. By Deft Seasonal Touches, Etiquetteer means incorporating holiday motifs into one's outfit. For instance, ties, pocket squares, and socks with holiday motifs or colors add something special to a gentleman's look. For instance, this red-and-green bow tie with crawfish pattern reflects not only Christmas colors but also Etiquetteer's Southern heritage.


But a gentleman needs to keep from overdoing it. While Holiday Excess is favored with home exterior and interior decoration, it isn't for the clothes of a gentleman. And the Ugly Christmas Sweater Suits being offered online are really more appropriate for a costume party rather than daily wear or, more portentously, the Office Holiday Party at which professional reputations are undone. As Auntie Mame said to Agnes Gooch, "Put down that lime green at once. You're supposed to dominate it!"

Fruitcake, Vol. 14, Issue 44

Dear Etiquetteer: I have bought two fruitcakes for a residential building party and am horrified to discover that both may contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil. The third fruitcake source charges $57 for express delivery on top of $100 for two cakes, so that is not an option. My question is do I bring these cakes to the party? If I do, should I tell people that they may contain trans fat?  Should I bring an alternative dessert which is trans fat free.  I am sure that others will be bringing desserts as well.

Dear Fruitcaked:

The type of party you describe sounds an awful lot like a neighborhood potluck. The whole point of a potluck is that the assembly "takes pot luck:" whatever is brought is there to be enjoyed, whether plain or fancy, kosher, vegan, halal, paleo, macrobiotic, artificially sweetened, lactose intolerant, pre-processed, or partially hydrogenated. So Etiquetteer thinks it Perfectly Proper to bring those Possibly Trans Fat Enhanced Fruitcakes.

A year ago one of Etiquetteer's suggested New Year's Resolutions was "Resolve not to be so insistent about your diet when you’re away from home." A holiday party is the perfect time not to be insistent. Etiquetteer also covered the topic of Diet vs. Hospitality, which could apply here.

Etiquetteer wishes you and your fellow partygoers a Perfectly Proper Time.


Perfect Propriety at Holiday Meals, Vol. 8, Issue 24

A dear friend of Etiquetteer's forwarded recently two rather dispiriting (but unintentionally very funny) articles about family holiday dinners sabotaged by bad behavior. The first was a letter with dinner assignments and cooking instructions for a family Thanksgiving; the overprecise hostess just comes off as bossy. The second gives a list of family horror stories; be sure to read the last one, when a man kicks out his abusive in-laws on Christmas Eve! These stories got Etiquetteer to thinking about some basic rules for the holidays:

  1. It's a dinner table, not a Roman arena: the Winter Holidays - Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas Kwanzaa - are designed for us to come together in a spirit of Gratitude, Festivity, and most of all Love. Theoretically, we love our families and our friends. In practice, however, we all know that Love needs help when it's abraded by the desire to settle old scores or rehash long-ago arguments. Unfortunately, the stereotypical American mother-in-law who thought her offspring could have done better is the best example of this. Remember Etiquetteer's basic precept: no one cares what you want or how you feel. This is not the time, and if someone brings up an unwelcome topic or tries to rib you into a response, just reply "This really isn't the time" and change the subject.
  2. Keep the conversation light: Professor Henry Higgins instructed Eliza Doolittle to discuss only "the weather and everybody's health," with disastrous results. Rather than confine table talk to only two topics, Etiquetteer will only restrict you from discussing Politics, Religion, and of course Reference to Bodily Functions. Please also keep from pressing someone's hot buttons, too! We all have them; there's no use denying it. And they are unique. If you know someone will be set off by mentioning how the church was redecorated, say, or that Oprah Winfrey decided to end her talk show, don't do it.
  3. Shut up and eat!: Reading that second piece, Etiquetteer flushed with shame reading about the elderly mother circling the buffet for sweet potatoes and marshmallows. One year when Etiquetteer was very young and not yet versed in the ways of Perfect Propriety, his lovely grandmother made lamb for Thanksgiving. Young Etiquetteer huffily refused to taste a morsel; one had turkey on Thanksgiving! If you can't find your favorite dish, too bad. When you get home, you can make it for yourself.
  4. Roll with the punches: Perfect Propriety does not mean Perfection. One responds to Imperfection with Perfect Propriety. Etiquetteer was appalled, and sorry for the recipients, reading that first letter with all the Thanksgiving cooking instructions. When one hosts a holiday meal that is really a potluck, one cannot expect One's Own Perfection out of the guests - who are also theoretically People You Love. If someone brings yams instead of mashed potatoes, or forgets a serving spoon, or anything, your negative reaction could mar the day more than their omission. Don't make them feel bad with a hissy-fit or snarkiness.
In the end, if you cannot approach the Festive Board with Love and Sincerity, perhaps it is better for you to be alone.
Due to distance and the proximity of Thanksgiving and Christmas, Etiquetteer has not celebrated the former with his family for 30 years. In the interim Etiquetteer has been welcomed into the homes of friends or the families of friends. So very very often the Warmth of Fellowship we crave at the holidays has been found around these tables. On Thanksgiving Day, which this year will be spent with cousins through the Mayflower, you may be sure Etiquetteer will lift a glass in thanks all the households where he has been made welcome.
Etiquetteer knows you are eager to resolve some question of Perfect Propriety before the rest of the Winter Holidays come! Please send your queries to <queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com>.

Holiday Potlucks, Vol. 4, Issue 50

Dear Etiquetteer:The holidays are upon us and I hope you can assist with the whole question of bringing food to various house parties and gatherings. Just what is the etiquette around glorified potluck parties? I'd appreciate your insights on both sides of the equation.For example, I host an annual Christmas gathering at my house. It's one of those parties where folks come and go for hours, mingling and catching up with folks they perhaps only see at my event once a year, people hopping in from shopping and such. It's not one of those times when cocktails and finger sandwiches would do. Folks have a real appetite either when they arrive or after they've been lounging in my house all afternoon. I make some big dishes for folks to share, but feeding the hordes is just too much. I invite guests to bring some beverage or food to share in a low-key way. Some people do bring something and others don't which is perfectly fine and all seem well fed and pleased. But I do sometimes wonder if this makes me a lame hostess who's not really able to provide for her guests. Any thoughts? On the other side, as guest, I've been invited to share a holiday meal with my new beau's family. I offered to bring a dish and, told this was an intimate family affair, suggested a spicy squash soup or my famous pear and pecan salad. My beloved passed the offer to his mother who queried the whole family for their preference. They've never had soup at their family dinner before and, not able to imagine such a thing, selected the salad. Unfortunately, in the meantime, I've learned that there will be a sizable crowd at this event. Making the salad is near impossible under these circumstances since it will require last-minute kitchen prep and lots of room to prepare the now dozens of little salad plates. Doing this would impose on those doing the real cooking of the entrees and is sure to make me look bad with my potential future in-laws. The soup would be far easier for me to prepare and will be far easier on their end when it comes time to serve, but I fear soup is no longer an option. Should I bring the soup and provide them, despite their misgivings, with a new culinary experience or should I write to Martha Stewart for some kind of substitute, easy-to-travel, inferior salad?Dear Potted:Forgive the slight exasperation in Etiquetteer’s tone, but what on earth are you thinking bringing individual salads to a potluck? The First Rule of Potluck Cuisine is that when you bring a dish, it should be completely ready to serve. NO additional preparation time in the kitchen should be required beyond reheating a dish in the oven or adding croutons. To bring the soup after the family has already said they don’t want it would show a disregard for their feelings Etiquetteer knows you don’t feel, so please turn to The Joy of Cooking or The New York Times Cookbook for a Perfectly Proper salad recipe that can be prepared in bulk.This certainly shows how "an intimate family dinner" is defined by the size of the family . . . also why casseroles are so popular at potlucks. (Don’t you miss those white Corning Ware casserole dishes that everyone had 30 years ago? You know, the ones with the blue flowers on the side.) Don’t forget to label yours with your name on masking tape so you can get it back afterward.Now when you’re the hostess, you are not Lame or Bad by asking guests to bring refreshments as long as you say "Potluck refreshments" or "Please bring a dish to share" or something similar on the invitation. Truth in advertising is what’s key here. All Etiquetteer asks is that you keep the hot foods very hot and check frequently that you have enough plates and utensils. Nothing is worse than having to cut and eat tepid lasagna with a plastic spoon . . .

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