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

Tradition vs. Fashion as the Seasons Change, Vol. 13, Issue 47

Labor Day 2014 has decidedly come and gone, and the Perfectly Proper now complete their workday toilettes without the summer staples of seersucker, linen, and especially for those who are sticklers of tradition as Etiquetteer is, white shoes. Each year Etiquetteer feels a tinge of sadness treeing and bagging his white bucks. This is not helped by fashion gurus like Tim Gunn saying all the old rules need to be broken! Perhaps the thrill of white shoes is made more special by the artificial construct of an "official" season in which to wear them. And why not? We only eat Christmas cookies at Christmas. Special things are reserved for special times. Etiquetteer is happy to go along.

Fashion has ever been ephemeral, fleeting, nonsensical, and often frustrating. Abigail Adams herself, fresh from colonial Boston in London, observed "There is a rage of fashion which prevails here with despotick sway. The couleur & kind of silk must be attended to; & the day for putting it on & of[f], no fancy to be exercised, but it is the fashion & that is argument sufficient."* But let's face it, the everyday dress of Americans in the 21st century has much less to do with Fashion, or even with Style (alas!) than it does with Careless Convenience. And that, dear readers, is a sad state of affairs.

And with that, Etiquetteer is quickly going to knot a neat bow tie and head to the office.

*Quoted in Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams, by Lynne Withey, p. 161.

National Bow Tie Day and the Seasonal Change of Wardrobe, Vol. 13, Issue 46

Astonishingly, depending on where you look, August 28 is National Bow Tie Day in the United States. So of course Etiquetteer feels it necessary to observe with Perfect Propriety:

With Labor Day this weekend marking the Official End of Summer, the time has come to send the seersucker off to the dry cleaner and sadly, carefully, tree those white shoes until Memorial Day. Preparation for this Seasonal Ritual led Etiquetteer to contemplate how a gentleman's Perfectly Proper wardrobe changes so completely from summer to autumn.

Etiquetteer's workplace adopted a "summer casual" dress code years ago, and since it's a greater sin to be overdressed than underdressed*, Etiquetteer's "uniform of the day" changed from seersucker suit and bow tie to polo shirts and khakis. (Often in uncompromisingly bold colors chosen by That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much, who distracted Etiquetteer with a complicated seating chart.) Polos and khakis, too, will be consigned to home life after Labor Day, and Etiquetteer is not displeased to resume donning crisply tailored suits, shirts with French cuffs, and of course bow ties in the course of daily professional life.

If you have questions about how the change of seasons impact Perfect Propriety, please do send them to Etiquetteer at <queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com>.

*It is still a sin to be underdressed. Don't do it, and don't make Etiquetteer come after you.

Summer Clothes, Vol. 7, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer:

 

I recently received a wedding invitation that indicated the attire to be "Black Tie Optional.”  I was planning on wearing a black silk charmeuse dress with champagne satin accents. The dress, however, is not floor length, but mid-calf. Is this acceptable for an evening, "Black Tie Optional" wedding? And further, should my husband wear a tuxedo, or will a dark grey pinstriped suit suffice? Any guidance on being Perfectly Proper would be appreciated!

 

Dear Charmeuse:

 

Etiquetteer deplores the designation “black tie optional.” It’s neither fish nor fowl. One should either dress all the way or not. Since it is always a greater sin to be overdressed than underdressed, Etiquetteer must insist that your husband wear a dark suit and NOT a tuxedo.

 

As for you, Etiquetteer warns that these days if you wear black to a wedding you’re likely to be mistaken for one of the bridesmaids. Nevertheless, a mid-calf or “tea length” dress is Perfectly Proper for such a wedding as you describe.

 

Dear Etiquetteer:

 

I have a blue seersucker suit, but am confused as to what shoes to wear with it.  I have a pair of slip-on light brown loafers with tassel.  Will this work, or am I just plain tacky?

 

Dear Seared:

 

Etiquetteer rejoiced a couple weeks ago when the time came to bring out his own blue seersucker suit for the summer. Many kind people have commented on it, to which Etiquetteer usually replies that they, too, have the power to wear seersucker.

 

The most Perfectly Proper shoe to wear with a seersucker suit is a pair of white bucks. But of course that’s only Perfectly Proper between Memorial Day and Labor Day. When wearing your seersucker on more casual occasions, Etiquetteer has no objection to tassel loafers . . . but expects some Nantucket red-wearing readers to object strenuously.

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."

 

 

Reader Response, Vol. 5, Issue 21

Finally we are passed Memorial Day, and Etiquetteer knows you are all happily wearing white with Perfect Propriety. As you see, Etiquetteer has made the switch, too!

Etiquetteer has taken a bit of flak over a recent column about how to deal with talkative strangers:

Shame on you! Old people rarely get the company they deserve. I remember meeting an elderly gentleman on a streetcar in San Francisco. He said he rode it all day just to have something to do and if anybody talked to him, that just made it a great day. That man next to you was probably talking about your salad because that was all he knew the two of you had in common. Isn't there a compromise somewhere where you could eat and this man could get a little human communication?

Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer is not questioning why that nice old man was talking about the Cobb salad, or indeed the issue of lonely old people wandering cities across our nation looking for human interaction. But do you have any understanding of how difficult it is to eat food while people are talking about it? While wishing this old gentleman no ill will, Etiquetteer must sympathize with those who have only a limited time for lunch to get away from the stresses of the workday. And if this means you class Etiquetteer along with murderously self-absorbed Waldo Lydecker, well, so be it.

Do you have any suggestions for how one might extricate oneself from such a chatterbox before reaching the point of rudeness? Something along the lines of “I’ve enjoyed listening to you. I’m going to return to my book now; this is one of the few times that I get the chance to read, and I do so enjoy it.” I recognize that chatters exist (my honey is one, and being a non-chatter myself, I appreciate the pressure it takes off me at parties to be verbal) but in my experience, many chatters chat because they are lonely and looking for any sort of human connection. In your examples the train platform lady is probably the latter. I ran into a lot of lonely people (mostly senior citizens) in my first job as a high school student, working in a pharmacy and occasionally delivering prescriptions. I was not very good at tearing myself away, and frequently had to explain to my boss why I'd been gone so long. A good method for extricating oneself from these situations is appreciated.

Etiquetteer responds: Really, you just provided it. Your little speech suits the purpose almost to the point of courtliness. Etiquetteer could only add “Won’t you excuse me please?” to make it Perfectly Proper. As a delivery boy you can always say “Sorry, they keep me on a tight schedule and I can’t get in trouble.”