2015: A Year in Review, Vol. 14, Issue 47

Like any other year, 2015 held its share of Issues of Perfect Propriety - or the lack of it - in the news. Yes, people are still behaving badly everywhere, sometime astonishly so. ENTERTAINING AT HOME

January saw one British family invoice another when their child failed to attend a birthday party. Etiquetteer wrote about this issue here, but the most Perfectly Proper way to deal with no-shows is to stop sending them invitations. Certainly one doesn't make a scene involving one's children, or the children of others. A wedding guest in Minnesota also got a bill from a Bridal Couple when they failed to attend the wedding. As frustrating and expensive as no-shows are, it's not Perfectly Proper to bill them.

THE WEATHER

New England was hammered with record-shattering blizzards in winter, which led one sexagenarian female to attack another with a snow blower. As the police chief involved said, “Emotions may run high during a historic weather event like the Blizzard we just endured, but that is no excuse for violence.” Etiquetteer couldn't agree more. Indeed, it inspired Etiquetteer to write on blizzard etiquette. And conditions deteriorated so much that later on Etiquetteer had to write even more.

RESTAURANTS AND FOOD

This year also saw the rise of a terrible practice, that of making multiple dinner reservations at different restaurants for the same time. While this increases one individual's options, it's discourteous to other diners, and disastrous to restaurants, who count on filling every seat to pay their bills. Stop it at once! Another restaurant issue to hit the news was the number of people claiming "allergies" for preferential treatment. And speaking of people who are precious about their food, even the Thanksgiving table is a battleground now. Etiquetteer rather wishes people would just be grateful there's something to eat . . .

TOURISTS

The behavior of tourists made the news this year. American tourists were caught carving their names into the Colosseum in Rome. The twenty-something California women managed one initial each before getting caught. Remember, take only photos, leave only footprints. But don't take photos of someone's bedrooms. Harvard University had to issue new rules for tourists to protect the privacy of their students. And you might want to think about taking photos at the 9/11 Memorial in New York. One writer called out tourist behavior there, especially around selfie sticks.

CLOTHING AND FASHION

Anno Domini 2015 saw the rise of "athleisure wear" - shudder - which has led children to reject denim for public wear in favor of sweatpants.  There was also the Suitsy, the business suit onesie. This article explains, rather fascinatingly, why we're dressing so casually now.

Also, musicians are taking a stand about their standard uniforms of white-tie or black-tie formal attire. In another direction, see-through wedding dresses are being promoted by designers. Of course Etiquetteer thinks they're Perfectly Proper - if you're getting married at the Folies Bergere. Another fashion trend that needs to end is the sloppy manbun, now also available as a hairpiece. Sadly.

First Lady Michelle Obama made the news when she didn't cover her hair on a brief visit to Riyadh to meet King Salman of Saudi Arabia. Her allegedly bold and courageous stance in not wearing a headscarf was, in fact, Perfectly Proper diplomatic protocol, as was shown by photographs of previous First Ladies and Female World Leaders like Angela Merkel, also without headscarves while meeting Saudi dignitaries. The Duchess of Cambridge made a fashion choice that brought coverage for a different reason: wearing a bright red gown for a state dinner in honor of China. Since red is the national color of China, that was not just Perfectly Proper, but also Deftly Diplomatic.

Higher Education is supposed to teach students about making Appropriate Life Choices, such as wearing shoes that will not make you fall over. Etiquetteer felt alternately sorry and embarrassed for this young woman who floundered through her graduation because of her shoes. Conversely, ladies in flats were turned away from screenings at the Cannes Film Festival. Please, ladies and film festivals, safety first!

EXHIBITIONISM

Under the guise of asking a question of Senator Rick Santorum, Virginia Eleasor let out an incoherent rant against President Obama, accusing him of nuking Charleston. This led Etiquetteer to ask questioners at public events whether they really want to ask questions or make their own speeches.

AIR TRAVEL

Regarding air travel, The Boston Globe reported on the rising phenomenon of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who, when flying, refuse to sit next to women not their wives on religious grounds. Later in the year The New York Times wrote about the increasingly fraught sport of seat-swapping on airplanes. One man no doubt wanted to switch seats after his seatmate repeatedly stabbed him with a pen because he was snoring. Violence against fellow passengers is never Perfectly Proper. Etiquetteer would have put that seatmate on a no-fly list.

THE THEATRE

Stories about bad behavior in theatres continued to make the news in 2015, including Madonna Herself, who was not invited backstage after a performance of Hamilton because the cast saw her texting throughout Act II. But even Madonna was upstaged by the young man who went onstage before a performance to recharge his cellphone on the set! And even that Astonishing Event was eclipsed by the woman who went backstage to ask the actors where the restroom was during a performance.

Benedict Cumberbatch, a True Gentleman, appealed to his fans in a Most Perfectly Proper Way not to use devices during performances.

CHILDREN

This year Etiquetteer tried out a March Madness-style survey of Pet Peeves. The winner, from the Table Manners/Dining Out category: Ill-Mannered Children of Complacent Parents. And in fact, there were some related news stories. A little girl's meltdown at a White House function led Etiquetteer to wish more parents used babysitters, for instance. But the champion news story on this topic - and perhaps for the entire year - has to go to the incident at Marcy's Diner, when the owner yelled at a crying toddler who wouldn't shut up.

GENERALLY IMPROPER BEHAVIOR

Anno Domini 2015 began with a story about a woman in Florida shaving her - ahem - "bikini area" while operating a motor vehicle. While Etiquetteer understand the desire to be completely groomed before arriving at one's destination, Etiquetteer longs for the day when it was understood that ladies and gentlemen were completely groomed before they left the house.

Both Vice President Joe Biden and actor John Travolta came in for criticism for getting too "up close and personal" for greetings with Ladies Not Their Wives.

A Florida fraternity got itself into a colossal amount of trouble at its spring formal when drunk fraternity boys spit on wounded veterans, stole their American flags, and urinated on them. It should be needless to say that these aren't the values any fraternity is supposed to inculcate into its members.

Thirty people got in a fight over whether or not someone cut in line to use a waffle maker. Sometimes it's best not to escalate the situation. Sometimes it's best to stay in a hotel with a proper restaurant with a proper cook to make the waffles.

Perfect Propriety and pets moved uneasily in a Brooklyn building where dog waste in stairwell and elevators was becoming an issue.

And finally, a South Carolina politician used his holiday greetings to express his unhappiness over a vote on displaying the Confederate flag by enclosing this message: “May you take this joyous time as an opportunity to ask forgiveness of all your sins, such as betrayal.” Rather like getting a lump of coal in the mail.

And with that, allow Etiquetteer to wish you a Happy and Perfectly Proper New Year in 2016!

smalletiquetteer

Etiquetteer Tours the White House, Vol. 14, Issue 41

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Last week Etiquetteer had the great good fortune to tour the White House, and would like to recommend that you do so as well. Requests for White House tours are handled through the offices of your elected representatives to Congress, so find out who yours is and follow the directions. Etiquetteer will admit to having been drawn to the House to tour after a summer announcement from the Obama White House that the tour format had changed to a self-guided tour, and that tourists would now be allowed to take photographs. From the White House website, "As of July 1, 2015, Smartphones and compact cameras with a lens no longer than 3 inches (stills only) are permitted on the public tour route as long as their use does not interfere with other guests’ enjoyment of the tour" [emphasis Etiquetteer's.] Etiquetteer wants to offer a few tips to make your White House tour both enjoyable and Perfectly Proper.

It's very important not to bring much of anything with you. Aside from the list of prohibited items*, there is no place to check anything belonging to you so you can retrieve it later, including your coat. This is because tourists enter the House through one entrance and exit through another; there's no backtracking. Etiquetteer's concession to this was to forego wearing a hat, which would of course be removed instantly on entering someone's home. Etiquetteer rather regrets that Misbehaving Very Young Children are not included on the prohibited list, but to suggest such a thing would seem to some an Assault on American Motherhood. If Very Young Children must be brought, their parents should be mindful not only of keeping them out of the way of others - and there's a lot of movement with so many people self-guiding about the House - but also of the historic importance of the rooms one is privileged to tour.

The tour begins outside, rain or shine, so dress accordingly for the weather. Etiquetteer also thinks you should dress for Perfect Propriety - one never knows when a Very Important Person might appear - but most tourists appeared in tourist clothes: cargo pants, jeans, sweaters, etc. Etiquetteer observed one large group of chaperoned high school students all wearing identical hoodies with their school logo, which has the advantage of being Perfectly Practical.

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The line forms here, in front of the building next door to the White House.

Etiquetteer was fortunate enough to enjoy bright and brisk autumn sunshine while waiting in line with other citizens, chatting with the family from Alabama directly ahead. At the appointed time, National Park Service rangers admit those in line with tickets and government-issued identification. The line curves past a large equestrian statue, and then divides in two, where reservation forms and ID are checked by agents. Tourists then walk past another ranger who distributes small tour guides to an interior space where everyone is briefly checked and goes through a metal detector. It is very important to pay attention before to items not allowed on the tour; Etiquetteer witnessed a tourist have to give up some sort of prohibited item or be turned away.

Tourists then walk outside and approach the entrance to the East Wing. Etiquetteer remembers touring the White House in 1980 and entering directly from this entrance without the intervening security. One proceeds up the stairs and down the East Colonnade overlooking the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, and through a square room containing large portraits of former presidents and a small gift shop. (Etiquetteer thinks Millard Fillmore deserves better than to be hung over the cash register.)

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President Fillmore surrounded by cashiers.

From here one enters the Ground Floor of the White House, where the China and Vermeil Rooms and the Library may be viewed. At least on the day Etiquetteer was there, the Diplomatic Reception Room and the other half of the floor were screened off. The rooms on this floor are not suitable for large crowds of tourists, as they have only one door. Ropes across the door keep tourists from entering. Etiquetteer recommends showing courtesy to fellow tourists by not spending too much time in the doorways; have a look and then pass on. Don't become an obstruction for others.

Etiquetteer does not advise making political commentary on current or former occupants of the House to the Secret Service agents on duty. Staff of the House are loyal to the Presidency, and Etiquetteer thinks it courteous not to put any of them into a position of saying "No comment" to an Impertinent Question, no matter how humorously or mock-humorously intended.

From the Ground Floor one ascends a staircase and suddenly enters the East Room from a corner entrance.

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The East Room

Mostly roped off so that one can appreciate the true scope of the room, the Obamas have added a few items created by groups they have visited or who have visited the White House.

From the East Room, tourists may proceed at their own pace through the Green, Blue, and Red Rooms to the State Dining Room. Throughout the State Floor rugs have been rolled back to preserve them from extensive tourist foot traffic, but this does not mar the beauty of the rooms, nor much disarrange the furniture.

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Notice how the beauty of the Blue Room is retained even with the carpets rolled up.

Each room has two doors. For parties of two or more, Etiquetteer recommends splitting in half so that one half can photograph the other in each room. A uniformed Secret Service agent is present in each room to answer questions and share information. They are also there to keep tourists from sitting on the furniture, even if it isn't behind a rope. Etiquetteer witnessed a Secret Service agent politely directly a young woman not to sit in a Red Room chair, even though it was not behind the ropes.

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The deceptively available Red Room chair.

From the Red Room, the tour continues through the State Dining Room (with a peek into the smaller Family Dining Room), through the other half of the Cross Hall, and then out the Entrance Hall through the North Portico. This portion of the tour contains the location where most tourists want to get their pictures taken: the Blue Room entrance flanked by the flags and surmounted by the Seal of the President of the United States.

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The most popular selfie backdrop in the White House.

Under the circumstances, waiting for the Perfect Photo Opportunity could take so long that the Secret Service might get overly interested. Etiquetteer considers that "making do" is the best strategy.

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Etiquetteer could not avoid being photobombed.

It might seem odd to some that the grand piano has been placed in the Entrance Hall instead of the East Room, but one must remember that it is often used when there is dancing in the Entrance Hall, and that the East Room is used for many types of functions when a piano might be in the way.

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And so the White House tour ends with an exit to the North Portico. Tourists want to linger on the steps, but the Secret Service firmly and courteously keep everyone moving down the stairs. Many continue taking photographs down the drive, and in the street outside the gates, and across the street in Lafayette Square. The entire tour was a worthwhile experience, not only to view the rooms which have witnessed so much History, but to see how valuable Fellow Citizens feel it is to tour. Etiquetteer encourages you to do so.

*Items prohibited on White House tours: video recorders, video cameras including any action camcorders, cameras with detachable lenses, tablets, tripods, monopods, camera sticks (the increasingly popular and menacing “selfie stick”), handbags, bookbags, backpacks, purses, food or beverages, tobacco products, personal grooming items (i.e. makeup, lotion, etc.), strollers, any pointed objects (which Etiquetteer took to include pens or pencils), aerosol containers, guns, ammunition, fireworks, electric stun guns, mace, martial arts weapons/devices, or knives of any size.

How Not to Celebrate National Underwear Day, Vol. 14, Issue 28

Good underwear, like good housekeeping, is what you don't notice . . . at least not out in the streets, where it could frighten the horses. Etiquetteer only just learned that August 5 is National Underwear Day, yet another of the Hallmark Holidays brought to us by Retail and the Internet. Through an unhappy coincidence, today Etiquetteer also witnessed two examples of How Not to Celebrate National Underwear Day (should you choose to do so):

EXHIBIT A: In the morning Etiquetteer observed a young woman wearing a red-and-white print shirtwaist dress walking through a train station. As it happened, the dress was less than opaque. An unnaturally wide dark line spoiled the print of her dress. On closer observation, Etiquetteer was horrified to discover that the wide dark line was, in fact, the waistband of a pair of thong underwear, and that this young woman's buttocks were clearly visible through her dress. The one point Etiquetteer could award her for Perfect Propriety was that at least it appeared her brassiere was the same color!

But first, a thong is always wrong, and even more important, underwear should not be visible through one's outer clothing. Otherwise one might be branded a slattern or worse. (Etiquetteer is frantic with frustration at not being able to find an illustrative clip from the Jean Harlow film Red-Headed Woman, in which she tries on a dress. JH: "Can you see through this?" Saleslady: "I'm afraid you can." JH: "Then I'll wear it!" She proceeds to break up a marriage.) Clearly it's time for the slip, once an essential undergarment for ladies, to make a comeback.

EXHIBIT B: Later in the day Etiquetteer saw a Young Man greet his Lady Fair on the public street. He wore a pair of white athletic shorts over a quite obvious pair of briefs with a bold black and white print shining through. They reminded Etiquetteer of hotel curtains, and for a while Etiquetteer wondered if Fraulein Maria had made them for him. White is always Perfectly Proper for summer, as the world knows. But if you're going to wear white, wear it on the inside and the outside.

Let's recap, then, some Rules for Wearing Underwear:

  • No one should know if you are, or are not, wearing underwear. It's no one's business. Don't make it their business.
  • Underwear should not be visible through outer clothing. If you're wearing white outside, wear plain white underneath.
  • Underwear should not be visible around outer clothing. Waistbands should be concealed by tucked-in shirts at the very least. Bra straps should not protrude from necklines.
  • If you're wearing more than one piece of underwear, such as a bra and panties, they should be the same color.
  • A thong is always wrong.

Really, the best way to celebrate National Underwear Day is probably just to buy, without fanfare, one or more pairs of underwear. Etiquetteer feels sure that's why Retail and the Internet gave us this holiday in the first place.

no-nogloves

Blizzard Chic, or Perfect Propriety in Adverse Conditions, Vol. 14, Issue 7

At the moment, New England is receiving an historic amount of snow that is compromising just about everything: safety, public transportation, education, business, general daily life, and, alas, Perfect Propriety. Beth Teitell of The Boston Globe has written an interesting article about how Bostonians are dressing to accommodate both professionalism and the weather. Etiquetteer must bow in admiration to Professor Rictor Noren of the Boston Conservatory, who defiantly commutes on foot dressed as a gentleman in this dreadful weather. His omission of a hat - any hat - is certainly too imprudent for Etiquetteer, and Etiquetteer trembles for the fate of his dress shoes in the absence of boots (Ms. Teitell doesn't indicate if Professor Noren wore rubbers over them; Etiquetteer certainly hopes he did). But one must admit the professor sallies forth with complete confidence, and that is how one projects Style. Etiquetteer steadfastly believes that one does not have to compromise one's professional appearance for the sake of warmth or, indeed, preservation of one's wardrobe from destruction. One need not confine oneself to choosing between looking like a slob and looking like Carly Fiorina. What Ms. Teitell calls "storm chic" Etiquetteer has often referred to as "Yankee chic," which at a minimum is a substitution of good sturdy boots for dress shoes, and can be expanded to include the substitution of more durable materials, if not forms, for business clothes. For instance, Etiquetteer wore this to the office between snowstorms last week:

Instead of a typical tropical-weight wool suit with leather shoes, Etiquetteer's "Yankee chic" uniform is corduroy trousers, a thick wool sweater, and an oversize (to accommodate the sweater) khaki jacket. Barely visible is the wool necktie (one of the rare occasions you'll see Etiquetteer without a bow tie). Author Paul Fussell deplored the middle-class nature of the V-neck sweater, which he claimed middle-class men wore to prove that they were wearing a tie. Etiquetteer can't remember if that was in Class or BAD, and will have to look it up later. (That said, Etiquetteer doesn't really agree with that hypothesis; there's nothing wrong with the Perfectly Proper V-neck sweater.)

So, please be strong and dress warmly with Perfect Propriety. You'll project hope for the swift coming of Spring . . . or, if not Spring, at least the swifter elimination of the snow.

Notes from a Memorial Service, Vol. 13, Issue 32

Etiquetteer recently attended a memorial service for a Public Figure, and had this to observe:

  • Perfectly Proper dress is most important at a funeral or memorial service when respect is shown both to the dead and to the living. While Etiquetteer naturally prefers black - always Perfectly Proper in the West - many tasteful and respectful ensembles in black, gray, and white were observed. Down jackets and flannel shirts, regardless of the weather - and Etiquetteer does understand that this has been a brutal winter - simply are not Perfectly Proper.
  • For such events, Etiquetteer wears a black necktie that incorporates stripes of purple and silver gray, having learned that the combination of black and purple symbolizes triumph over death. Etiquetteer tends to avoid wearing a black bow tie with a plain black suit, as too many people believe it's pretending to be a tuxedo - which it certainly is not!
  • To leave a funeral or memorial service before it has ended is the Height of Bad Form, no matter how much longer it continues than you expected. Etiquetteer was outraged to see between 10-20% of the assembly scurry out. At such times your convenience means NOTHING! This is not an entertainment for your benefit or curiosity. Remain seated and attentive until the service is definitely over - or at least remain seated, close your eyes, and think of England.
  • For Heaven's sake, turn off your devices before the service begins! Etiquetteer counted three cellphone interruptions (two possibly from the same phone). If you can't prevent yourself the embarrassment (should you be incapable of feeling embarrassment), at least prevent the rest of us the annoyance. Sadly, it's become necessary to indicate at least by signs of printed announcements, if not by a verbal announcement, that devices must be switched of.

Out-of-the-Ordinary Workplace Issues, Vol. 12, Issue 12

Dear Etiquetteer: This question pertains to appropriate workplace behavior, and I can’t tell if I’m being too stuffy or not.

I work in a medium-sized office building (~200 employees), which provides several picnic tables for use in nice weather. Lately, a handful of employees have taken to bringing a picnic blanket and sitting under a shady tree. This involves some state of disrobing (shoes, perhaps an outer shirt) and decided lounging (one employee was lying on her stomach). While not a common occurrence, VIPs do come and go from our building, often parking just feet from this “picnic site.”

When I heard of such plans, I enthusiastically suggested the lovely shady park just a five-minute walk from the office to avoid the slippery slope to sunbathing, naps, etc. The response was not received well. So, the question is: despite the fact that it is indeed their lunch break/free time, is it appropriate for employees to be picnicking, lounging, and shoeless on company grounds during office hours where VIPs may be parking and entering the building?

Dear Stick in the Mud:

A picnic table outside the office is like open bar at the office holiday party. It’s best not to take full advantage of it, because the results may make the wrong impression. Of course this kind of slackening of behavior in the workplace got started because many employees no longer dress professionally. “Casual Friday” at many workplaces has been replaced by “Casual Everyday,” which VIPs of another generation might not think is a great idea, whether it's at a picnic table or a boardroom table. Etiquetteer would rather stick in the mud with you . . . but not so enjoyably that it might be considered wallowing.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I am working as an artist in a Well-Appointed Home, and have a number of people on my own staff that come in during the day to help me. My question is: how should my staff address the butler? The complicating factor is that the butler's full name is John James. Two of the children in the household are John and James. The household gets around this by addressing the butler by a nick name, but that seems too familiar for my staff to use. I asked my hosts, but got two different answers. I asked the butler what he prefers, but of course, he won't express an opinion, and I am unable to read any subtle clues he may be giving me. He has been invaluable so far, and the project will run for several months, so I'm anxious to do the right thing.

Dear Buttled:

Invaluable as this butler may be, he does you no favor by not stating unequivocally precisely how he prefers to be addressed. This rather annoys Etiquetteer, as it's not a very helpful attitude! Without specific direction, your staff could call him "Hey, you!" and it would be Legitimate (if not Perfectly Proper) simply because he has not stated a preference when asked. Etiquetteer has encountered this before, when asking people how to pronounce their names and being told either "Oh, anything" or "Either one." Neither answer is helpful! Etiquetteer has finally decided that the best question to ask in that circumstance is "How do you pronounce your own name?"

But to return to your own query, butlers are always addressed by what used to be called visiting staff or "inferiors" as "Mr. [Insert Last Name Here]." If, after a week of this, he finally tells members of your staff, "Oh, just call me Honey," then you might have a workplace harassment issue.

Etiquetteer suspect you must have a summer-related etiquette question about seersucker, gin and tonics, or vacation behavior. Do send it along to <queries_at_etiquetteer.com.>

Sheer Impropriety, Vol. 12, Issue 11

Etiquetteer really hadn't given Gwyneth Paltrow a thought since Shakespeare in Love, but she has now been forced on Etiquetteer's attention due to an Unfortunate Fashion Choice. For the premiere of Iron Man III, La Paltrow chose an Antonio Berardi gown distinguished - if that is the word - by neck to floor panels of sheer black on each side. The gown was designed in such a way that she could not wear underwear under it, and it need hardly be said that a Lady does not call attention to her lingerie, or lack of it. As if that weren't Lacking in Taste enough, La Paltrow's stylist leapt into the fray with the usual fluffy public relations denials along the lines of "It's daring in a no-daring way," "It's spirit without being vulgar," "You don't see a whole lot of false fakeness going on there like some other people," etc. To which Etiquetteer can only suggest that they must be showing us the real fakeness. The late Oscar Levant once said "Scratch the fake tinsel of Hollywood and you'll find the real tinsel underneath." Etiquetteer can only agree.

But the real coup de grace for Etiquetteer was later in the article, recounting La Paltrow talking about this dress with Ellen DeGeneres on the latter's talk show - and the unexpected grooming required to wear a sheer dress with no underwear. As Miss Sweet Brown taught us, "Ain't nobody got time f'that!" Is this what we've come to, America, frank discussion of pubic grooming on national television? You may be sure that Etiquetteer had to go lie down after reading that.

Please, ladies - please! Etiquetteer certainly doesn't want to prevent you from making the best advantage of your physiques if you wish to do so, but good tailoring and fitting will go much further than the overuse of sheer fabric. Perhaps it is time for satin to make a comeback; Etiquetteer remembers the late Anais Nin writing about the skill of French tailors making black satin flow like liquid over a woman's body. Or something like that.

A couple other examples of sheer fashion in history also didn't end well. At the 1969 Academy Awards, Barbra Streisand was persuaded by designer Arnold Scaasi to wear a sheer black pantsuit to the ceremony. The triple layer of tulle did too little to conceal La Streisand's undergarments. Indeed, her pantyline was made even more prominent when she tripped going up the steps to the stage. The late Mr. Blackwell accused her of mooning the audience. You be the judge by viewing the film clip here. The conventional wisdom, "You can never go wrong with a classic," is still Sound Advice.

A much more scandalous occasion took place much further back in time when Elizabeth Chudleigh, a lady-in-waiting in the court of George II, showed up dressed as Iphigenia at a court masquerade with at least her breasts bared, and nothing else left to the imagination. A couple different interpretations of what she wore may be found here. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was said to have remarked that her tunic was so disengaged "the sacrificial priest would have no trouble finding her entrails." (Etiquetteer is gnashing his teeth in rage at not being able to cite the source.) Her Sauciness attracted the attention of the king, who asked if he could touch her exposed breast. She replied, "Your Majesty, I can put it in a far softer place," and brought his hand to his own head. Etiquetteer marvels that this is actually history and not from an episode of "Tales of Ribaldry" with Jon Lovitz.

Etiquetteer can only conclude that those beautiful sheer fabrics are best left in the bedroom.

Kindly send your own style-related questions to Etiquetteer at queries_at_etiquetteer.com.

Random Issues and Commentary, Vol. 12, Issue 5

Dear Etiquetteer: When someone sees a bit of food on your face, or a smudge or something else that shouldn't be there, should they tell you about it? Even if it's small?

Dear Smudged:

The question isn't the size of the apparent Impediment to Perfection, but the ability to do something about it. For instance, Etiquetteer has on more than one occasion come home from a party with a dark green bit of spanikopita on his teeth, which would have been easy to remove had someone quietly said, "Etiquetteer, you have a bit of spinach in your teeth." On the other hand, Etiquetteer, like many men, occasionally cuts himself shaving. When the answer to "You have something on your chin" is "It's a scab; I cut myself shaving," you've overstepped.

Etiquetteer should hasten to add that it's impertinent of a gentleman to inform a lady who is a stranger to him of anything out of place about her. These days such "helpfulness" is too easily misconstrued as harrassment.

Unfortunately, the threat of being expelled from Best Society no longer deters people from behaving badly in public. Several instances have appeared in the news today:

  • Students at Tufts University were reprimanded for excessive drunkenness and public urination at the Tufts Winter Bash at a Boston hotel. Do you know why Emily Post, Lillian Eichler, Amy Vanderbilt, and other 20th-century etiquette writers never had to specify that ladies and gentlemen never urinated in plain view? BECAUSE PEOPLE KNEW BETTER. Etiquetteer blames Woodstock. If it were up to Etiquetteer, these students would be expelled. In the meantime, Etiquetteer hopes that Tufts will choose a less violent name for their winter dance than "bash."
  • Some good clean fraternity fun veered into Imperfect Propriety when a University of Michigan fraternity was suspended indefinitely for using a semi-nude photo in a party invitation. The photo features a row of ten Pi Kappa Alpha brothers wearing only a very thin American flag. While Etiquetteer chooses not to doubt the intentions of these young men - although one of them does appear to be enjoying himself a bit too much - Etiquetteer does have to disapprove. You see, the photo was used in a party invitation to a sorority, and this Image of Implied Nudity can easily be construed as Forcing One's Attention on a Lady, which as we know is Simply Not Done. A photograph of the brothers fully dressed would not have been offensive. Etiquetteer hopes this Error in Judgment will be rectified soon.
  • The Black Mental Health Alliance has launched an ad campaign emphasizing the legal penalties of sagging. For those who might be unaware, sagging is the practice of wearing one's pants below the waist, often to such a degree that they are completely below the buttocks - exposing undergarments, and often more. Etiquetteer agrees with rapper Tamara Bubble, quoted as saying "Sagging should stop now. Girls don’t like it and people don’t take you seriously in general. You can’t get job with it. If you go to court with it, you’re probably going to lose your case. In all aspects of life, it’s not healthy." But even Etiquetteer questions the penalties mentioned: a $300 fine and up to three years in jail. Etiquetteer can only imagine the hue and cry there would be if such a campaign was put into place for those who wear pajamas in public* - a practice that is carried out by too many people of all races.
  • Then there's the report of Judy H. Viger, the 33-year-old mother who hired strippers for her son's sixteenth birthday party. CAUTION: The linked article includes what most people would call a "Not Safe For Work image" and what Etiquetteer calls Most Indelicate. From the article: "The dancers stripped to thong underwear and bras and gave lap dances to some of the teenagers." The article also mentions that this party was held at a bowling alley, and it isn't clear that it was in a private lane. Ms. Viger has been arrested, and Etiquetteer would like to see her sentenced to public service working with victims of sexual abuse.

And that should be Quite Enough from Etiquetteer tonight! Now go forward and sin no more.

*Of course Etiquetteer exempts those going to or from a pajama brunch, but it is advisable not to run errands along the way.

Seven Actions for Perfect Propriety in Public Life in the New Year, Vol. 12, Issue 2

Here we are, embarked on a New Year, and Etiquetteer is working hard to maintain a Feeling of Hope for increasing Perfect Propriety. Etiquetteer has identified seven areas -- some simple, some quixotic -- where action should be taken. At once. 1. Homeowner associations (HOAs) need to write exceptions into their governing documents allowing homeowners to display the American flag on or from their properties without being fined or censured. Every year an HOA makes the news when it sues or fines a homeowner who displays an American flag on his or her property against the HOA rules about decorations and displays. These stories are even more poignant when the flag is tattered or in otherwise less-than-perfect condition, usually because of its association with a family member who died in service to this nation. If you live in an HOA, take the initiative now to modify your bylaws to permit display of the American flag on one's property.

2. Anyone who has charge of an escalator, whether it's in a shopping mall, transportation hub, government or office building, or any other public place, needs to be sure that every rider knows that standing is on the right, and passing is on the left. This can be achieved with signage or a painted line down the center.

3. Retailers need to stop colonizing private life and pandering to our baser instincts by scheduling outrageous sales events on holidays - and we need to stop letting them do it by buying into this manufactured "excitement." Etiquetteer was outraged that some retailers actually scheduled some sales to begin on Thanksgiving Day Itself, and appalled viewing some of the video footage of the Black Friday mélee. Etiquetteer has extreme difficulty reconciling this with the True Spirit of Christmas. If it was up to Etiquetteer -- which, of course, it ought to be -- Black Friday sales would not be allowed to begin until 10:00 AM on Friday. Even if the retailers don't, Etiquetteer wants you to make the commitment to refrain from shopping on holidays.

4. Unfortunately, Western civilization has reached such a low level of sloth, selfishness, or contempt that more and more people don't care about being properly dressed in public. Indeed, many don't even know what proper dress is. With great reluctance, Etiquetteer must endorse the use of instructional signage, such as "No Visible Undergarments" and "No Sleepwear" so that standards can be reinforced.

5. Theatres and concert halls need to enforce more vigorously the rule not to use recording devices of any kind (cameras, recorders, smartphones, etc.) during concerts. Anyone who has ever had their view of a performance blocked by rows of upraised arms with iPhones will appreciate this. Etiquetteer believes that violators should be evicted, which means that ushers will need to be more vigilant and prowl the aisles during performances more often. (It is interesting to muse on how differently Woodstock might have affected Western culture if everyone there had had a smartphone or videocamera. Etiquetteer is mighty relieved they didn't.)

6. The battle between drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians must stop. To quote Stu Ackerman, "There is only 'we.' 'Them' is a hallucination born of fear." Everyone has the same goal: to get wherever they're going as quickly as possible. Etiquetteer would like them to get there as safely as possible, too. And this means being aware of one's own situation and of other travelers around one. For pedestrians, it means looking left, right, and left again before walking across the street -- and only at intersections. For drivers, it means knowing where one is going before getting in the car and relying on an often-faulty GPS. For cyclists, it means awareness that both pedestrians and drivers, through no fault of their own, will have to cross the bike lane. For all it means putting away one's electronic devices so that one can travel with full concentration and without distraction! Etiquetteer's heart has leapt into his mouth more than once seeing a pedestrian blithely walk into an intersection while staring intently at a smartphone screen, or a driver making a sharp left turn with one hand on the wheel and cellphone held to the ear. In summary, no one group of travelers is evil, as many would like to think. Rather, there are impatient and inattentive travelers in each group. Etiquetteer urges you to represent the best aspects of your particular Mode of Travel.

7. If parents are not going to enforce Perfect Propriety in their children when dining out, restaurants are going to start having to do it for them by either asking them to leave, being sure they know not to come back until the children can behave, or banning children altogether. While hastily acknowledging the very many good and attentive parents who understand and train their children well, Etiquetteer must note that the legions of oblivious and ineffective parents make dining out difficult for everyone.* The stories from waiters and waitresses (one need only search the Web) can curl one's hair.

And that, as they say, is that. Etiquetteer welcomes your Perfectly Proper queries resulting from these recommendations at queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com.

*It's worth noting, too, that every time Etiquetteer sees a news story about Chuck E. Cheese, it's because grownups started a brawl there.

St. Patrick's Day, Vol 11, Issue 7

Today is St. Patrick's Day, when everyone can claim to be Irish. Perfect Propriety takes a bigger hit on St. Patrick's Day than any other day in the American calendar, what with so many people using its parades and whatnot as a cover for Excess Alcohol Consumption. Etiquetteer has a few observations to make:

  • Mixed greens are suitable for a salad, but not your St. Patrick's Day "Wearin' of the Green." Please don't wear clashing shades of green. Kelly, olive, chartreuse, and day-glo look vile together. Remember, only blue-greens with blue-greens, and yellow-greens with yellow-greens.
  • In the last 30 years St. Patrick's Day has become a forum for homophobia in some communities. So let us not forget that it was the late Oscar Wilde who made the green carnation boutonniere a symbol for men of "the Wilde sort." "That sort" can now wear their carnations with a difference.
  • As the child of a Southern community with no Irish heritage, Etiquetteer grew up with only two St. Patrick's Day traditions: 1) wear green, and 2) pinch people who are not wearing green. And yet the tradition of pinching is unknown in certain Irish-American communities. If you're determined to go around pinching the greenless on St. Patrick's Day, remember that it's all in fun! Don't inflict pain, and don't let that be your purpose.
  • It's been suggested that the Irish should be exempt from pinching. Etiquetteer suggests that Irish who forget to wear green on St. Patrick's Day should be pinched twice.
  • If you're not wearing green, do not claim that you have on green undergarments. This is only an invitation for Rude Questions to prove your honesty, and quite possibly an Indecent Assault. (Of course, if that's what you really want, Etiquetteer has to wonder why you're even reading an etiquette column in the first place.)
  • Etiquetteer was taught early on, once moving North, that the only thing one must not do on St. Patrick's Day is wear orange. In some communities such attire is an invitation to violence. Etiquetteer hopes all the Syracuse University alumni will be safe today.
Finally, Public Drunkenness is overrated, and it is certainly not Perfectly Proper. Please drink with Perfect Propriety this St. Patrick's Day by obeying all local laws and law enforcement.
Etiquetteer will be delighted to take your questions about all Problems of Manners at queries <at> etiquetteer dot com.

George Washington 2.0, Vol. 11, Issue 5

In honor of Presidents Day, and the Father of our Country's birthday on February 22, Etiquetteer is going to update parts of George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation. Etiquetteer bets you didn't even know George Washington wrote an etiquette book! He copied 110 maxims when he was only 14. Several of these have to do with precedence and are, shall we say, overly exaggerated for the 21st century. But others remain classic at the core, and need to be restated. For instance:

GW 1.0: "7th, Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out of your chamber half-dressed.

GW 2.0: The idea is, you show respect for others by looking put together in public. Don't leave the house until you're completely dressed; for ladies this means completely made up, too. No one should have to see these things in action: mascara wands, buttons, belts, and especially underwear. Say no to the fashion of sagging! Say no to gaposis! And, as Etiquetteer mentioned earlier this year, don't wear your pajamas in public!

GW 1.0: "18th, Read no letters, books, or papers in company; but when there is necessity for the doing of it, you must ask leave."

GW 2.0: George's essential truth is still sound, that the person with you in person is more important than the person with you through another medium. Do not text or take or make phone calls in the presence of others, especially at the table, unless you ask permission first. This is especially difficult at table, or in a car, when your prisoners - um, Etiquetteer means companions - might be unable to continue talking themselves while waiting on you.

GW 1.0: "22nd, Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, though he were your enemy" and "23rd, When you see a crime punished, you may be inwardly pleased, but always show pity to the suffering offender."

GW 2.0: Refrain from flaming on online comment boards, especially anonymously. It's no surprise that people give in to their baser instincts when their identities are concealed. Such behavior does, however, brand one a coward.This is only one reason you'll never see a comment board here at etiquetteer.com (not that readers of Etiquetteer behave that way, of course.)

GW 1.0: "48th, Wherein you reprove another be unblameable yourself, for example is more prevalent than precept."

GW 2.0: Simply put, "Practice what you preach." It is very bad form, for instance, to advocate for the sanctity of marriage when one has been divorced, and certainly when one has been divorced more than once.

GW 1.0: "50th, Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any" and "79th, Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth thereof."

GW 2.0: Don't trust what you read on the Internet and do your own research. Sad to say, partisans on every side of the political spectrum, in their eagerness to paint as dark a picture as possible of their opponents, do not adhere as zealously to Truth as they ought. Inflammatory email that gets circulated and recirculated, charts and graphs that appear on social media such as Facebook, more often than not contain errors of fact, bald or nuanced. All this has led Etiquetteer to take refuge in the pages of The Economist.

GW 1.0: "110th, Labour to keep alive in your breast the little celestial fire called conscience."

GW 2.0: No change needed for GW 2.0. This little phrase still summarizes the entire book perfectly.

Two Current Events, Vol. 11, Issue 1

Two items in the news recently came to Etiquetteer's attention, each disturbing in its own way, and each worthy of comment. First, let's turn attention to Patron X, the gentleman whose smartphone stopped the New York Philharmonic mid-Mahler and enraged both the audience and the conductor. First, Etiquetteer has only praise for conductor Alan Gilbert. Not only did he sensibly stop the performance, later in the week he graciously accepted the personal apology of Patron X. Other artists of a more, shall we say, "artistic" temperament might have swooped down like a flock of harpies and banned the offender forever from concerts. It is to Mr. Gilbert's credit that he has accepted this man's sincere apology, and even to express sympathy for his predicament.

The situation could not have been more humiliating. Patron X was sitting in the front row of the concert hall with a new iPhone (received the day before from his company) that he only partly knew how to work. When the iPhone alarm clock went off, Patron X was near powerless to stop the noise. Etiquetteer believes that the contrition of Patron X is genuine and forgives him for this horrifying lapse of Perfect Propriety. But the entire experience boldly underscores the unquestioned necessity of powering off all personal electronic devices during a live performance of any kind. Not just to "silent" mode or "vibrate," but OFF. There is nothing so urgent that you need to know about it in the middle of a performance, and if it IS that urgent, maybe you shouldn't even be there. Power off completely and experience the performance completely! Dividing your attention will diminish your pleasure, and could eliminate the pleasure of others distracted by you.

When speaking in public, Etiquetteer begins with a "ritual power-down," so that everyone in the audience can switch off their cell phones and other paraphernalia together, making a group commitment to Perfect Propriety and Mutual Respect.

Then there's the Caddo Parish official trying to ban the wearing of pajamas in public:

Etiquetteer cannot claim to have seen people (of any age) cavorting about in their nightclothes, so perhaps this Lapse of Decency is only a local problem. What bothers Etiquetteer more is the careless attitude of offenders. Shreveport resident Khiry Tisdern is quoted saying "I'm an American, and I can wear my clothes anywhere I want. I'm a grown man. I pay my own bills, so I can wear my clothes the way I want." Mr. Tisdern may be a grown man, but he's not a grown-up. Grown-ups don't wear their pajamas in public.*

Even worse is the slovenly attitude of mother-of-three Tracy Carter, who says "... they're covering everything. I've got a three-year-old, a five-year-old and a 12-year-old to deal with." Her implication that Motherhood is so difficult that her family should be excused from putting on street clothes is an insult to parents everywhere who work hard to raise their children to behave and be strong, contributing members of Society. Etiquetteer's contempt for Ms. Carter cannot be stated too clearly.

This proves, too, that Perfect Propriety cannot be legislated. But because one has the Freedom to do something does not mean that one should do something.

*Some wag will certainly ask "Well, what about a pajama brunch?" And Etiquetteer will Heave a Weary Sigh and explain what is Perfectly Obvious: "If one is attending a pajama brunch in a private home, that falls under the definition of a costume party. If one is attending a pajama brunch in a restaurant, one attends in street clothes to avoid appearing like one is Trying Too Hard. If one is waiting tables at a restaurant's pajama brunch and one has to wear pajamas, they become one's uniform for the shift."

Etiquetteer hopes to greet you in person on February 1, 2012, at the Gibson House Museum for "Good Manners at the Gibson House with Etiquetteer."

Hacked Hand-Me-Downs, Vol. 10, Issue 5

Dear Etiqueteer: I have a question about hand-me-downs - a particularly thorny issue to begin with.

In my family, infant clothing is passed down. It is commonly understood and practiced without discussion. My daughter, Effie, is currently in line between two of my cousins who are sisters. We will call them Abby and BeBe. Their daughters are Cici and Deedee, respectively. Cici is a year old, Effie is four months old, and Deedee is currently wearing newborn sizes. In theory, this works very well.

In practice, to be short, it does not. Cici's clothing is generally off-season. Whether the print is sunflowers or snowmen matters less than whether it is a sundress or snowsuit. More importantly, the clothing is not wearable. It is stained, tattered, threadbare, and paint is peeling off of snaps. Goodwill and Salvation Army would not sell clothing so worn. I do not use this clothing. Currently, everything Abby has given me is in a box in the closet.

On one occasion, Abby borrowed a bib from me. She had it for only a few hours and returned it stained.

To further complicate things, Abby is pregnant. This child would very reasonably follow Deedee. The clothing that I pass on to BeBe would be passed on to Abby again within a matter of months.

BeBe and I take very good care of our things. The clothing that I pass on to BeBe is nearly new. When I see Deedee, I can tell that BeBe is treating these hand-me-downs as well as if they were freshly store-bought. We have also both received very nice gifts, and so our daughters each have beautiful clothing.

I get rags from Abby. Because the only hand-me-downs Effie gets are those previously worn by Cici, she effectively does not have hand-me-downs. Therefore, everything passed from Effie to Deedee is new. Everything BeBe passes down after Deedee has outgrown it, I'm sure, will still be in very good condition.

There is a social issue with Abby as well, in that she constantly requests my professional services without hesitating to point out that they are not worth what I am asking. When I stopped discounting, she stopped patronizing- but not requesting.

I am not at all comfortable with that clothing being passed on to Abby, who clearly lacks appreciation for a variety of things. I am also sad to know that anything she gets will be ruined.

I have another friend who is pregnant, but passing clothing to her would mean that BeBe would not get my hand-me-downs. Deedee would instead only get Cici's clothing. I would not wish on BeBe what I am I trying to escape.

It is important to note that my husband and I have decided that Effie will be our only child.

Question One: What to do with the box.

Question Two: How to avoid receiving more.

Question Three: What to do with my hand-me-downs.

I have been struggling with this for weeks now. Thank you.

Dear Gigi:

Let's see if Etiquetteer can untangle the path of the baby clothes through your Family of Alphabetical Pseudonyms. Three cousins share hand-me-downs as needed. Currently they begin with Abby, for her year-old daughter Cici; then to you, Gigi, for your four-month-old daughter Effie; and then to BeBe for her newborn daughter Deedee. They will then return to Abby for her expected newborn (probably Heeheeheeheehee).

Because the hand-me-downs you're receiving from Abby are no longer fit to wear, Etiquetteer assumes that you are having to buy new baby clothes and/or acquire hand-me-downs from another source which will then go into the family's collective bassinet. You resent the expense and the necessity for this, and would like to spare BeBe your troubles by eliminating Abby from this silently operating Family Tradition.

Etiquetteer suggests ending this Family Tradition because it is not equally respected by all the participants. Since you and your husband are not planning to have any more children, pass on the box to BeBe (Question One) and declare to all that you are Out of the Loop (Question Two). This then becomes BeBe's problem, to manage with her sister Abby in any way she sees fit. Which means that you should say nothing about it evermore unless BeBe asks you.

As for your own hand-me-downs (Question Three), since they're yours, direct them where you think they will be most appreciated and cared for: either to BeBe or to your friend, or divide the lot and send some to each.

And should you and your husband end up having another child - which has been known to happen - make it clear from the beginning that you won't resume the Family Tradition.

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.

Weighty Questions, Vol. 7, Issue 18

Dear Etiquetteer:I have lost a ****load (literally) of weight. I have 5 large black garbage bags full of too-big clothes, and I have a friend I know can wear them and really needs them. Would it be crass of me to offer them to her - "Here are my fat clothes, I thought you could wear them", or should I discreetly donate them to a charity? They are all top brands and clean.   Dear Svelter: No reference to avoirdupois need come into your offer to your friend. Say something like "I'm getting rid of a lot of things and wanted to offer you first pick before I take them too [Insert Charity of Your Choice Here]." In subsequent conversations don't even make a reference to her current, and your former, size. It can be the . . . forgive me the pun . . . "the elephant in the room."

Three Snapshots of New York, Vol. 7, Issue 3

Etiquetteer recently spent some time in Manhattan and saw a few things worthy of comment.

This sign, which appeared outside a popular restaurant/nightspot, reads "This is a residential building. Please be respectful of our neighbors. Kindly keep your noise level down and the sidewalk clear for pedestrian traffic."

 

Etiquetteer didn’t return at closing time to see how effective it was, but can only admire the sentiment and the effort this sign represents. Etiquetteer is sure that readers could suggest other establishments where such notification would be welcome!

Etiquetteer very much enjoyed a late lunch at Max Brennan’

s, but how on earth are you supposed to drink hot chocolate with Perfect Propriety out of a cup like this?!

 

Etiquetteer first thought it was being served in a gravy boat, but it’s really called a HugMug. You’ll note that it has no handle of any kind. The best Etiquetteer could manage was to grasp the wide end of the HugMug and sip from the spout. Certainly the hot chocolate was the best Etiquetteer had ever had!

If you’re wealthy enough to swan about Manhattan in a full-length fur coat, then you’re able to afford Perfectly Proper shoes in which to do so. Etiquetteer was appalled to see this misguided lady trudging along in a glamorous fur wearing wool socks and tennis shoes! Sweet merciful heaven, one doesn’t have to wear high heels, but one could at least wear non-athletic shoes and stockings instead of socks.

Reader Response: White After Labor Day: Vol. 6, Issue 31

Etiquetteer was surprised and gratified by the number of people who responded to the recent column on white after Labor Day:

From a well-read gentleman: May I offer an additional resource into evidence? Vogue's Book of Etiquette (1948), by the inimitable Millicent Fenwick, matron extraordinaire and later an esteemed Representative from New Jersey. It was the first major post-World War II etiquette book, IIRC, and was highly esteemed in its day. I would suggest that the issue is not so much that white was verboten as such between Labor Day and Memorial Day, but that it was commendable in the country (as opposed to town) in certain situations between Memorial Day and Labor Day. (The issue is between prescription and proscription - subtle but important.) That may explain the lack of commentary in the works you referenced.

From a genteel person of discernment: That there is such wide-spread disagreement regarding a subject that makes no appearance in the literature until 1982 suggests that the boundary dates for summer whites is one of those time-honored traditions that, like diamond engagement rings, grill forks, and Christmas, have only become honored in relatively recent times, either for economic benefit or as a means of social exclusion, as in the case of dear Mrs. Hammersley. It is, of course, disrespectful to wear white to certain ceremonial functions, such as a wedding if one is not the bride, but who can truly claim offense on a warm Autumn afternoon if the gentleman at the next table on the club patio is neatly attired in a tasteful white coat and tie?

Etiquetteer responds: I don't know that it's a question of "claiming offense" if someone is not dressed according to the rules, but it does identify them as people who don't know the rules or, even worse, as people who ignore the rules; the latter could be considered dangerous to know.

From a stylish urbanite: There are two things I mourn each September: the herds of moving vans that clog the streets of my city and the storage of my summer whites. Thanks so much for insightful and amusing column on this worthy tradition. And look at it this way: cashmere season is just around the corner!

Dear Etiquetteer:

No white after Labor Day you declare. Now I can understand tucking away the seersucker -- it always speaks of summer holidays I think -- but the color itself is expelled? Just what is the so-called "winter white" then?

Dear Whitened:

Etiquetteer defines "winter white" as a shade one or two notches away from the usual blindingly bright white we’re used to seeing in summer and in the underwear aisle. Yahoo! describes winter white as "cream-colored wool." In 2005 Perry Ellis described a winter white sweater as "ivory." Etiquetteer thinks you could get a whole descriptive range from Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams, but you get the idea.

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify <at> etiquetteer.com.

Kyla Ebbert’s Airline Wardrobe Brouhaha, Vol. 6, Issue 30

Once again bad behavior on the airlines is in the news, but Etiquetteer never expected it to have to do with a passenger’s wardrobe. As is frequently the case, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

The story in brief: in response to a complaint, a Southwest Airlines customer service representative tried to pull 23-year-old student and Hooters waitress Kyla Ebbert from a flight because her outfit was too skimpy. Ms. Ebbert felt humiliated and her mother felt angry. Because they haven’t received an apology from the airline, they have taken their story to the TODAY show.

Etiquetteer will turn his attention to Ms. Ebbert’s ensemble in a moment, but first must express sympathy with "Keith," the airline employee who had to address Ms. Ebbert. Southwest told TODAY that "Southwest Airlines was responding to a concern about Ms. Ebbert’s revealing attire on the flight that day." Etiquetteer takes this to mean that some busybody passenger decided to make trouble. With the Climate of Terrorism that already surrounds air travel, is this really the best use of an airline’s time? Whoever that passenger is ought to be heartily ashamed.

The Southwest response to TODAY continued "When a concern is brought to our Employees' attention, we address that situation directly with the Customer(s) involved in a discreet and professional manner." With passengers packed so tightly into an airplane, where is the opportunity for discretion? Even asking a passenger to return to the jetway calls attention, thereby eliminating discretion. Long story short, "Keith" made the best of a terrible situation for him. Etiquetteer can only commend him and deplore the situation he was put into by whoever was complaining AND the airline.

Now (said Etiquetteer rubbing his hands with glee) we can address what Ms. Ebbert actually wore on the flight. Her white denim miniskirt, "wifebeater" tanktop, and what Etiquetteer would describe as a green "matador-style" sweater have already been seen on national television and the Internet. Unfortunately for her sense of entitlement and righteous indignation, TODAY had to blur out her crotch when she wore that outfit on the show and sat down. Let’s just say that weakened her argument that there was nothing wrong with her outfit! Etiquetteer is hardly going to suggest that women go around in burqas or Mother Hubbards, but if you can see all the way to Crawford’s Notch when you’re seated, you are not dressed like a lady. Perhaps it has something to do with working at Hooters? Etiquetteer will let you decide that one.

But the single most tasteless decision made in this whole sorry story was the decision Ms. Ebbert and her mother made to bring this story to the national news. Having bad taste and, unfortunately, getting called out for it is one thing. Splashing your humiliation (and your air-brushed panties) all over the media is the most embarrassing thing the Ebberts could have done, if only they had the sense to realize it. What was Mrs. Ebbert doing there in the first place? Her daughter is over 21; hasn’t she been raised to fight her own battles?

Lots of people on the Internet are calling Ms. Ebbert filthy names not worth repeating here. Etiquetteer will only say that she has been sadly misguided about what is Perfectly Proper for a lady to wear and not be thought a Lady of the Evening only. In the meantime, Etiquetteer can only repeat what he’s said before: "No one wants to see your underwear outside the bedroom . . . and maybe not even there."

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify <at> etiquetteer.com.

White After Labor Day, Vol. 6, Issue 29

Not too long ago Etiquetteer witnessed a particularly unpleasant exchange on an Internet message board. The subject was the long-standing tradition not wearing white after Labor Day, and many participants heaped scorn on this beloved (at least by Etiquetteer) and time-honored tradition, and on anyone who would follow it. Disturbing as that was, Etiquetteer was equally disturbed to see such widespread disagreement about the roots of the tradition and to exactly which articles of clothing it affected. So Etiquetteer decided enough was enough and to get right down to the bottom of it . . . which was easier said than done.

Etiquetteer turned first to his own library of etiquette books:

The Book of Good Manners: A Guide to Polite Usage for All Social Functions by Frederick H. Martens (1923) overlooked it.Kindly Etiquettee for Busy People by Rae Welch (1936) declined to include it.Emily Post’s Etiquette (the 1937 edition) made no reference to it.Today’s Etiquette by Lillian Eichler (1940) maintained silence on it.Esquire Etiquette: A Guide to Business, Sports, and Social Conduct (1953) did not mention it.Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette (1954) failed to discuss it.I Try to Behave Myself by Peg Bracken (1964) completely bypassed it.

Judith Martin, upon whom may the Deity of Your Choice heap many blessings, at last mentions it in her definitive Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (1982). She seconds her approach even more vigorously in Miss Manners’ Guide to the Turn-of-the-Millennium (1990), which Etiquettteer encourages you to read on page 149. And she further clarifies in Miss Manners Rescues Civilization(1996).

Now one would think that if anyone would make a complete 100% declarative statement brooking no dissent it would be Miss Manners. And she does, but only in terms of white shoes . . . and that is frustrating. You may be sure, at least, that she and Etiquetteer agree that the wearing of white shoes is bounded by the holidays Americans use to define summer: Memorial Day and Labor Day.

After that, Etiquetteer was horrified to learn that no less an authority than the Emily Post Institute has declared that the rule no longer applies! (The passage in question is midway down the page.)Etiquetteer can only consider this blasphemy.

But what of the rest of one’s outer wardrobe? In the complete absence of written evidence Etiquetteer has little to go on but the films of Ingmar Bergman (you will recall that everyone wears spotless white during Bergman summers) and the story of Lily Hammersley from Marian Fowler’s wonderful bookIn a Gilded Cage. Mrs. Hammersley, socially treading on thin ice anyway, spent the summers of her first marriage in Newport. There, she ostentatiously sat alone dressed entirely in white on the lawn of her club. No one spoke to her, and she was frequently derided behind her back. A few years later, all the ladies appeared in white outfits unrelieved by any color at all. But by this time Mrs. Hammersley had divorced (!) and moved overseas. At least Etiquetteer thinks that’s how the story went. If you find out otherwise, please let Etiquetteer know.

After all this rooting about, Etiquetteer still feels on shaky ground, but hardly ready to give way. Indeed, Etiquetteer has even offered an opinion in the discussion at Faking Good Breeding, a fashion blog.

So today, Labor Day, Etiquetteer will lovingly lay away his folds of white linen and blue seersucker and carefully tree and bag his white bucks until next Memorial Day, and will prepare to Wag an Admonitory Digit at those who don’t.

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White After Labor Day, Vol. 5, Issue 32

Dear Etiquetteer:

A group of us are planning to vacation together at a Southern beach resort this fall, a trip we’re all looking forward to. Last week one of my friends was casually talking about packing and said "Well, I’m definitely not packing anything white since it’ll be well after Labor Day." This led to a whole discussion about what was really right or not. One person said no white after Labor Day was right, and someone else said that that rule only applied to bags and shoes. Someone else even said that those rules didn’t apply if you’re on vacation or especially at the beach. What’s the real story on this, Etiquetteer?

Dear Whited Out:

How Etiquetteer wishes that all etiquette could be as straightforward as the Golden Rule! Issues like, this, however, prove that everyday manners can become very tangled, even more than Which Fork to Use.

Etiquetteer loves summer white, and really does not understand all these hipsters now changing out their summer black for their fall black. Etiquetteer believes this whole thing got started with Lily Hammersley, who later became the Duchess of Marlborough. During her first marriage she’d hang out at the Casino in Newport dressed completely in white and a total outcast. Her all-white wardrobe was branded as affected. Indeed, there were even cutting remarks about her in the paper! Later, after she’d moved away from Newport, everyone started wearing total white for the summer.* The first regiment in battle always takes the most bullets . . .

Just when and how to wear white becomes a little blurry – grayer, if you will – after Labor Day and before Memorial Day. The first thing to establish, since you all are heading off to the beach, is that white shoes and handbags are Perfectly Proper at resorts, even in autumn. Keep in mind that all the locals will recognize you as tourists, and therefore new in town and "ripe for the picking," as those Dickensian pickpockets used to say.

Daily life brings with it more restrictions, and one of the most inviolable is No White After Labor Day. White shoes, white handbags, white slacks, white jeans, white jackets, and especially white dinner jackets for men – are all Absolutely Improper in autumn, winter, and spring. No less a person than Katie Couric is still learning this important lesson, now that she’s taking justified criticism for wearing a white jacket for her first evening newscast. White gloves, on the other hand, are always Perfectly Proper for ladies, and Etiquetteer hopes you’ll run right off to get a pair to go with your Navy Red or Cherries in the Snow lipstick.

Dear Etiquetteer: After your advice earlier this summer, I just wanted to let you know that I got a lot of compliments on the seersucker suit I wore to the wedding (and a few Matlock comments), and there was at least one other person who wore seersucker to the wedding.

Dear Well-Suited: Thank you for letting Etiquetteer know! Let skeptics everywhere note (and you know who you are) that at an informal evening wedding in summer, a seersucker suit is just as Perfectly Proper as a dark suit.

*More on this charming lady and other American duchesses in Marian Fowler’s lovely book "In a Gilded Cage."