Etiquetteer is always delighted to hear from readers, and recent columns have provoked some correspondence seeking clarity:
I enjoyed you response about the wedding a great deal. I myself had an early afternoon wedding and with all the guests from out of town, we offered a large buffet of lunch items before cutting the cake. Still, I don't feel that your response fully answered the question. My gut says you might have responded to the stand up reception or your disapproval of them. Personally, having a wedding with thirty guests, a buffet worked well and allowed everyone plenty of food. As bride I even got a plate! I feel that stand up receptions don't allow those who need to sit down the option of sitting down. I would have enjoyed hearing your response include an answer to the question.
Etiquetteer responds: Your buffet dinner reception for 30 guests sounds delightful; the smaller a wedding is, the easier it is to look after everyone's comfort, in your case providing a meal format in which people might sit or stand as they choose. To restate from the original column, a stand-up reception of hors d'oeuvres may be interpreted by the guests as insufficient acknowledgment of their own commitment to attend the wedding. Whether Etiquetteer approves or not is somewhat beside the point. Whether the level of bridal hospitality offered has the desired effect of making the wedding guests glad they came is the real issue. If more Happy Couples - brides especially - considered how well they treated their guests, there'd be less back-biting about weddings.
On a Night at the Opera:
Our seats at the [Insert Name of Very Important Opera Company in Prominent American City Here] were in the very, very last row of the upper balcony last season. It is all we could afford. We wore black tie for the Friday night premier of the first opera of the season, and every performance of six thereafter. Hobnobbing in the main lobby with the hoi polloi was fun, and the Champagne was free.
Not Perfectly Proper?
There are few situations in which Champagne is not Perfectly Proper! And Etiquetteer has spent many performances in seats near or similar to the ones you describe.* Your request for clarity on the Perfect Propriety of black tie in an opera balcony led Etiquetteer to seek out some "chapter and verse," starting of course with Etiquetteer's beloved 1950 edition of Emily Post. And even in that postwar period, formal dress for gentlemen was still de rigueur in the orchestra, parterre boxes, and first tier boxes. Black tie was worn in the first balcony only and "above that, clothes are no longer formal." As with so many things in the postwar years, formality kept sliding down the slippery slope, so that when Esquire Etiquette came out in 1953, it made no reference at all to what a gentleman wore to the opera, only that he must on no account sit in the front row of the box.
But for the 21st century, we are best guided by the old saw that it's a greater sin to be overdressed than underdressed. Inconspicuousness remains the best choice. So unless it's a gala night or the opening of the season, it's more Perfectly Proper to wear dark suits. On a more general note, the true test of a gentleman's clothes is how he chooses to stand out by blending in.
*Etiquetteer vividly recalls a recital given by Dame Joan Sutherland in the mid-1980s in a cavernous Boston theatre. Etiquetteer sat next to the ceiling and remembered first a large bit of paint peeling off the ceiling and wondering if Dame Joan would dislodge it with a high note, and then the fierce glare of Dame Joan's passementerie, which even so did not obscure the vast expanse of her black gown.