Gift-Giving to Unresponsive Relatives, Vol. 14, Issue 26

Dear Etiquetteer: When I sent my nephew his Christmas gift of cash, I told him that I knew he would be turning 18 in summer and graduating high school soon before. I told him his combined gift for these special occasions was a plane ticket to my city so that we could attend a Major League Baseball game together. However, because I know he's busy, he had to plan in advance. I never (uncharacteristically) got a thank-you for the Christmas gift. And he got in touch with me only after I told his father about the gift last month. I received neither an invitation nor an announcement of the graduation. However, two days before, my sister-in-law asked my sister for my e-mail address so that she could send me the live link to watch the event. My brother has since told me that nephew is too busy this summer to come to Boston. So this is my question: Do I send him a different gift for this birthday, or just a card reminding him of the previous gift. And what should I do about the graduation?

Dear Avuncular:

One of the responsibilities that comes with adulthood is conducting your own relationships with your relations, and not relying on your parents to take care of them. Your Neglectful Nephew appears not to have learned this. Etiquetteer does not care how busy his senior year of high school might have been. He should have been in touch with you directly, either to set a date, or to decline graciously.

Etiquetteer has to agree with you that receipt of a graduation invitation goes a long way to making one feel invested in a young person's future, and the gift one selects. Etiquetteer does have to wonder if your nephew sent them out at all, as it's simply too far-fetched to think that you were omitted from a family list.

Your account of the situation certainly doesn't display any enthusiasm on his part in your gift. Etiquetteer certainly sees no point in reiterating it. For his birthday, you might send him a bit of memorabilia from his favorite baseball team, along with a Lovely Note of Infinite Regret that you weren't able to tempt him sufficiently to join you. Etiquetteer would advise caution about suggesting another trip again.

As for a graduation gift, this young man clearly needs to learn the value of Prompt and Gracious Communication. A box of custom-made notecards with his monogram would make the point nicely, and you could underscore it by addressing the first envelope in the box to you. If you prefer not to make the point so baldly, an engraved pen or pen/pencil set makes a useful and traditional graduation gift.


Dear Etiquetteer:

When my niece gets married this summer, I plan to give her a restored and nicely presented hymnal that was brought to the United States by our first ancestor to immigrate here. My niece has shown no interest in this side of the family, but I consider the book an heirloom that should go to her. I anticipate blowback from my sister about an insufficient gift. Would that characterization be appropriate, and should it be made, how would I respond? I am not close to either of them.

 Dear Heirlooming:

Heirlooms and other Items of Family Significance get short shrift from today's bridal couples, a fact which never ceases to depress Etiquetteer. Given that your niece has not shown any interest in your shared family history, may not belong to or actively practice the religion advocated in the hymnal, and also that the two of you are not close, she's apt to feel you're getting off cheaply in the Wedding Gift Sweepstakes. In the interest of family harmony, Etiquetteer would suggest selecting an additional gift from her bridal registry to give along with the hymnal. Conversely, you could also save the hymnal to present to her and her husband on their Leather Anniversary, which is the third anniversary. (Etiquetteer is, of course, assuming that it's a leather-bound hymnal.)

When you do give your niece the hymnal, Etiquetteer hopes you'll choose to include an image of your Immigrant Ancestor along with any family stories that have been handed down. Even if your niece doesn't care, one day her children may.



Etiquetteer's Advice to 21st Century Brides, Vol. 13, Issue 53

Dear Etiquetteer: My beloved eldest niece - she who resembles me more than either of her parents - is getting married almost a year from now. So far she has save-the-date cards ordered, but as her mother had an awful upbringing in terms of manners, expectations, etc., I know she will not be able guide the bride-to-be. What are some of the pitfalls of which a bride-to-be should be wary in 2014-2015?

Dear Aunt Bridey:

A Young Woman approaching the altar has many pitfalls to avoid, including many within herself. The saddest and most obvious is the delusion that one's wedding is just as important to everyone else in the entire world as it is to oneself. The next is that everyone in the entire world is going to spend every cent they have gratifying her every whim; this is what Etiquetteer calls the Gaping Maw of Bridal Need. Etiquetteer hates to disillusion these women (actually, that's not true; Etiquetteer is fiercely eager to shred their Veils of Deliberate Illusion), but even one's fiancé is not likely as interested in the wedding as the bride. In fact, no one cares about the bride. They care about the bride caring about them. Surprise them all, and make your wedding guests the focus of your wedding!

Etiquetteer has some ideas about Brides Today and Perfect Propriety. Dear Bride:

  1. Be a giver, not a perpetual taker. No one likes satisfying the Gaping Maw of Bridal Need. No one owes you the wedding of your dreams.
  2. Ask yourself if this is really about you and your mother and/or mother-in-law fighting to see who can come out on top.
  3. Ask yourself if you want a perfect wedding, or if you really just want to boss people around. Be honest. If the latter, get the ladder and elope.
  4. Think carefully about the experience your wedding guests are going to have and make absolutely sure that your wedding will be a party they'll remember for the right reasons.
  5. Make the conscious decision that you're going to have a good time with all these people, not have an anxious time trying to avoid them so you can be with your fiancé/husband. After all, you'll have him for the rest of your life!
  6. It's a wedding, not a chorus line. Choose the number of friends you want for bridal attendants, not vice versa. An even number of attendants is not necessary - good heavens, attendants themselves are not necessary! (And you'd be surprised how many of your friends will secretly thank you for sparing them the burden.)
  7. Don't be so selfish that you force your attendants to buy hideous dresses they'll never wear again.
  8. Don't skimp on a gift for each of your attendants, and don't let your fiancé skimp either. They're your friends after all, yes?
  9. Consider skipping the vulgarity of a bachelorette trip to Las Vegas and instead hosting a traditional bridesmaids luncheon the week before the wedding.
  10. Expect to have a tantrum, and expect to apologize afterward for it.
  11. Under no circumstances should you plan to do anything on the day of the wedding but be the bride. This means no assembly of rice bags or souvenirs or table centerpieces, no cooking, no nothing.
  12. Do not publicize information about your bridal registry until people ask, and then send it to them privately. NEVER include registry information on a save-the-date card or invitation. People do still want to believe that they've been invited for the Pleasure of their Company, and not for the Generosity of their Purses.
  13. Lay in some good stationery now and send your Lovely Notes of thanks as gifts are received. You may NOT wait until after the honeymoon, and you certainly are NOT given until the first anniversary to send these.
  14. Keep it simple. The budget for ostentatious little touches might be better spent on upgrading the food.
  15. Most important, plan to speak to every wedding guest personally to thank them for attending. They have taken a lot of time, trouble, and treasure to celebrate with you, and they expect to get to speak with you. They deserve your attention. Etiquetteer, of course, remains devoted to the idea of a receiving line - while recognizing that they are routinely abused by wedding guests (not always elderly ladies) who expect to have long detailed conversations with the Happy Couple. Another solution is to circulate among the tables during the wedding banquet.

Now, Aunt Bridey, Etiquetteer feels the need to advise you not to insinuate yourself too aggressively into the plans for your niece's wedding. If you and she are so truly alike and already have a strong relationship, Etiquetteer predicts that she will reach out to you to be engaged in some way in the planning. But it would not be Perfectly Proper to usurp the place of the mother of the bride, regardless of how accurate your assessment of her abilities is. You have a beautiful opportunity to set a good example by hosting a meal in honor of the Happy Couple's engagement for your own set of guests, with all the proper accoutrements. But let Etiquetteer be clear that this should not take place later than three months before the wedding, and it is certainly not a bridal shower. Things get busy enough the closer one gets to the Big Day.

Etiquetteer wishes joy to the Happy Couple, and peace to all involved!

The Behavior of Brides, Vol. 13, Issue 44

Etiquetteer has been fascinated with Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters, by Philip Eade, his biography of Sylvia Brett Brooke, who married into the Brooke family, "the last white Rajahs of Sarawak." Sylvia's behavior throughout her life comes in for its fair share of disapproval - Etiquetteer can't say she was a Paragon of Perfect Propriety (indeed, Etiquetteer is just about to begin a chapter headed "To Hell with dignity") - but she did receive the praise of one dear friend for her conduct at her 1911 wedding. J.M. Barrie, best known to history as the author of Peter Pan, wrote Sylvia charmingly afterward about her beautiful consideration of others: ". . . so nice to everyone, especially to servants and waiters. I think the latter such a test of a nice woman, and I watched, and no one could have come more sweetly through the ordeal."* Reading this led Etiquetteer to reflect on the Bride of Today, who is usually so super-conscious of the wedding day being HERS, as though only her wishes and convenience needed to be considered. So many brides believe all they have to do is receive, receive, receive (but not in a receiving line): receive congratulations, receive compliments, and especially receive gifts gifts gifts (but only from the registry that has been shamelessly advertised) and money. And that they don't have to GIVE anything but orders: orders to give parties, orders to buy gifts, orders to buy ugly dresses, orders to lose weight, orders constantly to satisfy the Gaping Maw of Bridal Need.

Brides have a price to pay for all this, whether they like it or not, and it is the Gift of Themselves. Etiquetteer gets mighty tired of brides trying to wriggle out of their obligations to give back: by isolating themselves at "sweetheart tables" during the wedding banquet, by eliminating any receiving line** to avoid talking with wedding guests (many of whom have gone to considerable distance and expense to celebrate with her in person), and especially by adopting the fiction that Lovely Notes of Thanks are either unnecessary or able to be postponed until the first anniversary.

A wedding is a special occasion for everyone who participates, not just the Happy Couple, and consideration for the acknowledgement of all must be considered by brides. To Etiquetteer this means greeting each and every wedding guest personally (whether in a receiving line or by circulating among tables during the banquet, preferably both) and prompt and personal Lovely Notes to thank relatives, friends, and colleagues for their gifts (whether they were from the registry or not). Because you'll go on having to know all these people long after your wedding is over (and perhaps your divorce, too.) Don't make Etiquetteer come after you . . .

*Page 62, Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters, by Philip Eade, 2014 (Picador)

** That said, people have forgotten that receiving lines are not places to have extended conversations. All you should say in a receiving line is "Congratulations! I'm so happy for you and you look lovely" and then give way to the next wedding guest. And lest anyone think Etiquetteer is simply a Mindless Slave to Tradition, Etiquetteer needs to emphasize how wonderful it is that the size of receiving lines has been dramatically reduced, from the Happy Couple, all four of their parents, and all the bridesmaids to just the Happy Couple.

Black for Bridesmaids, Vol. 13, Issue 38

Dear Etiquetteer: How can black dresses for bridesmaids be outlawed?

Dear Blacked:

One of the drawbacks of living in a nation of Freedoms is that people have Freedom of Taste. While they have the Freedom to express Good Taste, they also have the Freedom to express Bad Taste, or at least the Freedom to Ignore Good Examples. So alas, black dresses for bridesmaids will be with us while the Bridal Industry declares them fashionable.

Etiquetteer considers that this trend began because brides wanted their bridal parties to look sophisticated rather than, well, bridal. Reverting to black is a rather unimaginative way to to do, as it's more than possible to present a sophisticated appearance in other colors than black. Even navy blue is magnificently sophisticated without being black! Surely there is a Happy Balance somewhere between Girlish Pink Tulle and Mourning Black Satin, yes?

What Etiquetteer would like to see changed most is the slavish devotion to strapless gowns for brides and their attendants. As the late Edith Head, one of the great costume designers of 20th century Hollywood, famously said, "Fit the dress to the girl, not the girl to the dress!" Not every figure is flattered by a strapless gown. But Fashion is a fickle goddess, and brides may only "repent at leisure" having indulged in the excesses of their times. Remember all those headbands with gigantic poufs of veiling behind them in the 1980s?

Which leads Etiquetteer to conclude with the timeless advice "You can never go wrong with a classic."

A Pre-Valentine's Warning from Etiquetteer, Vol. 13, Issue 19

With St. Valentine's Day on its way tomorrow, Etiquetteer feels it necessary - strictly in the name of Perfect Propriety - to advise you against Popping the Question Publicly. Fictionally we have the example of Vicki Lester and Norman Maine, seen here in the George Cukor film of A Star Is Born:

Now you'll notice that the situation was saved beautifully by Our Heroine who, seeing the embarrassment of her beloved, called out "Oh no, that's much too public a proposal to say no to! I accept!" And those who know the story know exactly what that got her . . .

Cruel Reality shows a different outcome:

But if you are really intent on doing this, Etiquetteer has some questions to ask first:

  • How comfortable is your beloved in the spotlight? Are you choosing to propose in public because she likes having attention called to herself, or because you want to call attention to yourself?
  • Are the manner and location of your proposal what you think she might expect of a marriage proposal? (Reviewing that compilation, and recognizing that Etiquetteer might be succumbing to stereotypes, Etiquetteer finds it hard to believe that most women want to entertain proposals of marriage at sporting events or the mall.)
  • Are you 110% sure that your beloved will say yes? And even then, Etiquetteer thinks you should reconsider.
  • Do you have a Graceful Exit planned in the (to you unlikely) event that your proposal is declined? Even if you're 110% sure your beloved will accept, plan one.

Etiquetteer asks these questions not only for your benefit and that of your beloved, but also for the Embarrassed Spectators who, if they don't want to laugh in your face, will want to turn their backs. Please, Etiquetteer begs you, consider your plans very carefully.

Now of course Etiquetteer expects to hear from several people who did witness Successful Public Proposals of Marriage, and that's just wonderful. Etiquetteer is delighted that you had that experience. Etiquetteer rather hopes that Those Who Popped the Question evaluated their situations intelligently.

You may be sure that Etiquetteer will have Shields Up on St. Valentine's Day, and if one of Cupid's little arrows gets in the way, Etiquetteer will use it as a swizzle stick for a martini.

Reflections on Wedding Invitations, Gifts, and Attitudes, Vol. 12, Issue 13

Etiquetteer has been relieved of the burden of wedding invitations this summer. Consider that sentence for a moment. Isn't it a pity that so many people consider an invitation to a wedding a burden, rather than a Happy Occasion to celebrate a Joyous Marriage with friends and relations? Etiquetteer is of the completely subjective and entirely unresearched opinion that there are two causes: the expense of attending a wedding for a guest (especially travel, which is not only expensive but inconvenient) and the selfish behavior of brides that led to the coining of the term "bridezilla" several years ago. These two causes combine in the selection of a gift for the Happy Couple. Etiquetteer was deeply sorry to read last week about a bride who was sufficiently unbalanced to call out her friends on social media for what she perceived as their inadequate generosity. First of all it's vulgar in the extreme to mention how much money was spent to entertain your guests. You invite friends (or the friends of your parents) to a wedding for the pleasure of their company, not because you expect them to cover the costs of their own entertainment*. Second, your wedding is not as important to your friends as it is to you; no doubt there are other, more important claims on their resources than your Gaping Maw of Bridal Need. And third, criticizing someone so bluntly on social media about their behavior is just as bad as, if not worse than, doing so to their faces. Brides who follow this example deserve to lose a lot of friends.

With the advent of social media, some confusion has also spread over how to interpret how one receives knowledge of a wedding -- or, to be completely candid, when to suspect that the only reason you're hearing is that the Happy Couple expects a gift. Over at Etiquetteer's Facebook page (speaking of social media), Etiquetteer recalled learning of the wedding of a Friend of Etiquetteer's Youth from Dear Mother; the invitation had been addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. [Parents of Etiquetteer] and Etiquetteer," which is far from Perfectly Proper. Why, you ask? Because at the time the invitation was sent, Etiquetteer was not only well over the Age of Consent, but also not living under the parental roof. Anyone over the age of 21 deserves his or her own engraved invitation sent to his or her own address; attempting to economize by doubling up invitations to parents and grown children makes you look shabby. Saying you can't find that person's address no longer serves as an excuse, thanks to the Internet.

This led to the question of how to respond to wedding invitations from Long Unheard-of Schoolfellows who haven't been heard from in so long that their motives are suspect. Back before the Internet (and before brides expected everyone to Travel the Earth on Command), wedding announcements were sent instead of invitations, something along the lines of

Mr. and Mrs. Fairleigh Freshness

announce the marriage of their daughter

Miss Dewy Freshness

to Mr. Manley Firmness

on [Insert Date Here].

Frequently a little address card would be included so that recipients would know where the Happy Couple would be living. You must remember that this was before the days of "Live Together First:"

Mr. and Mrs. Manley Firmness

After [Insert Date After Honeymoon Here]

5456 Cottage Lane, Apartment Six

Verdant Greens, New Jersey

Receipt of a wedding announcement was taken as information that the Happy Couple felt you should know, but not with the expectation of a gift. As much as Etiquetteer enjoys social media and other electronic communications, Etiquetteer would rather like to see engraved wedding announcements come back.

Should you receive a wedding invitation from someone you haven't heard of in many years, put pen to paper at once and send a Lovely Note of Congratulations along with your Infinite Regret that you cannot attend in person. And that concludes your obligation.

*If the costs are really bothering you, have a simpler wedding and invite fewer people.

Returning Wedding Gifts, Vol. 11, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer: I recently sent a very nice gift for my niece's bridal shower. Unfortunately, the wedding was called off shortly thereafter.

A few weeks later, the mother of the groom sent me a gift card to "compensate" me for my gift and my inconvenience. I am the only one in my extended family who received such "compensation." I suspect she sent it because we occasionally run into each other in the same social circles. Although I don't care about the money, the gift card is actually for much less than the cost of the gift.

I was offended that the groom's mother sent me the gift card because I do not feel it was her place to step in. My niece should have been the one to communicate with her own family. I would have preferred not to hear at all from the groom's mother. My current concern is what to do with the gift card. Should I keep it or return it to the groom's mother? I really don't want her gift card, so if I return it, what should I say?

Dear Unregifted:

A few years ago Etiquetteer was invited to a wedding. About three weeks before the wedding day Etiquetteer received a card in the mail that matched the wedding stationery with the announcement that

The wedding between

Miss Dewy Freshness


Mr. Manley Firmness

will not take place.

Underneath and to the left one found the sentence "All gifts will be returned."  Because let's face it, the first thought one has when learning of such a thing is "Am I going to get back that gift on which I spent so much money?"

It appears that your niece and her family have observed neither of these necessary social niceties, something you may want to take up with whichever Parent of the Bride is your Sibling. In the event that your niece does marry, Etiquetteer would absolve you from giving another shower gift -- but acknowledges that other etiquette writers may differ.

The involvement of the groom's mother certainly muddies the water. It's really not her business, but Etiquetteer has some sympathy with her, having been put in an awkward position (the cancellation of her son's wedding) through no fault of her own. And for all Etiquetteer knows, this lady has already raised the issue of returning gifts with the former bride-to-be and her family. Since you haven't yet received your gift back, the results may not have been satisfactory to her, prompting her to send gift cards to all her relatives and friends who sent gifts as well as to you. Etiquetteer does wish, however, that the lady hadn't used the term "compensation," which suggests that you needed to be paid for your troubles.

By all means return the gift card, but cut the lady some slack. Send the card back with a Lovely Note thanking her for thinking of you, but suggesting that you don't feel quite right keeping and using this gift card since your bridal shower gift to your niece was freely given. It's also Perfectly Proper to express sympathy with this lady over the cancellation of the wedding, and best wishes for the future happiness of her son.

Wedding Invitations, Vol. 8, Issue 9

Dear Etiquetteer: My daughter plans to send formal invitations to her wedding and reception. My husband and I have received calls from people who cannot attend. (The save-the-date cards were sent out several weeks ago.) I think her plan is horrendous and simply looks like a ploy for more gifts. She assures me that all of her friends say it's "nice" and "people will be grateful to have them as lovely remembrances." She says people will like to see their names in calligraphy on the envelopes!

I say, "Balderdash." Can you back me up on this? My husband and I are hosting her rather wedding and reception, but she's got the stamped, sealed, invitations in her hot little hands.

Dear Mother of the Bride:

Deep in Etiquetteer's Perfectly Proper heart, Etiquetteer knows you are right. Why people would be "grateful to have a lovely remembrance" of a function they cannot attend mystifies Etiquetteer. And Etiquetteer can assure you that any pleasure at seeing one's name in elegant calligraphy is quickly shadowed by the suspicion that a wedding gift is expected. 

Two paths remain open. A veneer, however thin, of Perfect Propriety can be maintained by including hand-written notes on these invitations to the effect that "Should your plans change, I would so much like to see you at the wedding." This puts the focus squarely on the presence of the guest in person, and not the guest's presents.

A compromise between you and your daughter may also be drawn. She knows her own friends as well as you know yours, and seems to think that her friends would want to see her wedding invitation. You and Etiquetteer agree entirely that your own friends would interpret it differently. Tell your daughter to go ahead and send out wedding invitations to her own friends who can't attend, but not yours. If your daughter later finds out that her friends all think she's a greedy bridezilla, that's her funeral.

In general, Etiquetteer is not a fan of sending out invitations to those who can't make a party. Many years ago Etiquetteer used throw a large party annually that included an involved, very funny invitation. After a few years Etiquetteer got weary of hearing "Sorry I can't come, but please keep me on the list. I love getting the invitation!" You can see how this might become tiresome. Etiquetteer lives to entertain his guests, but in person, not through the mails.

Another Broke Bridesmaid, Vol. 7 Issue 17

Dear Etiquetteer: I have a bit of a dilemma! I am a bridesmaid in a coworker's wedding. This makes me infinitely happy as I adore her. Her maid of honor, not so much. I understand and appreciate her stress in aiding the bride, but I am starting to get frustrated. I have spent over $1,000 on this wedding buying a dress and two round-trip plane tickets to attend the bridal shower and wedding. Despite this great expense I am being asked for even more money for "expenses" that I do not understand. These requests range from $50 to $200. I am planning on opting out of the combined bridesmaid's gift and instead am buying a gift with my other coworkers that better fits my budget.

Is it appropriate to politely refuse to fork over any more money? I am a poor college student with little disposable income. I'm starting to think I'll have to sacrifice buying books to keep up! Help! 

Dear Broke Bridesmaid: 

Etiquetteer has heard of Bridezilla - he has even met her a few times - but never Maidzilla. Etiquetteer declares that you, and other Beleaguered Bridesmaids, need not contribute to "expenses" in which you have had no selection or decision. And really, Etiquetteer would have excused you from attending the bridal shower in person due to the distance and expense involved. Someday American women will realize that the fantasy of having a Great Big Wedding need not be based on the outmoded stereotype of a clique of 19-year-old high school graduates who all live in the same neighborhood and can band together easily for wedding activities.

When Maidzilla solicits or invoices you again, you must tell her - with Perfect Propriety and Complete Calm - that you're unable to contribute any more money to the wedding effort since funding your education is now in jeopardy, which you KNOW is not what the bride wants for you. Maidzilla may toss a little tantrum at you; while it may be tempting to respond in kind, use all your control to Remain Calm. Taking the high road will only make her look even more petty and grasping. 

Invitations and Wedding Matters, Vol. 7, Issue 10

Dear Etiquetteer:

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

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

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

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

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

Random Issues, Vol. 7, Issue 2

Dear Etiquetteer:

I recently received an informal party invitation via text message on my cell phone. Unfortunately, the message was unsigned, and I did not recognize the origination phone number. What is the proper response in such a situation?

Dear TXTD:

You could start with a reverse phone number search on one of the Web search engines, such as, to see if you recognize the owner of the phone number. Otherwise Etiquetteer would think you Perfectly Proper in disregarding an anonymous invitation.

Dear Etiquetteer:

What’s the best way for me to tip my hairdresser? Should I just hand her the tip or give it to her in a little envelope? Does it matter if she’

 s with another client or should I wait until I can get her alone?

Dear Cut and Colored:

The best way to tip never calls attention to the act of tipping. So if you can discreetly slip your tip to her while shaking hands, preferably before you’ve left her to settle with the cashier, that’

 s best. Under the circumstances, Etiquetteer would say that the little envelope is a too fancy for everyday tipping at a salon. For your hairdresser, save the envelope for your holiday tip, which would be the equivalent or a regular cut.

Now of course this means arriving at the salon with enough small bills to tip without having to get change from the cashier. Does Etiquetteer remember to do this? Almost never! And by the time Etiquetteer has gotten enough change to tip, his barber usually has another client in the chair. When that happens, Etiquetteer usually slips his tip under something on the barber’

 s stand (like his schedule or a bottle of Clubman Talc or something), says "Thanks, [Insert Name of Barber Here]," and leaves. Etiquetteer enjoys the undivided attention of his barber too much to deprive others of that same attention.

Dear Etiquetteer:

Someone in my office just received an invitation to a book launch that’

 s being held in Singapore. The invitation specifies "Smart Casual" as the dress code. What does this mean?Dear Smarting:In the old days, for which Etiquetteer does pine on occasion, "Informal" would have been most Perfectly Proper. On the other hand, that distinction involved jackets and ties for the gentlemen. "Casual" was supposed to get around that, but then too many people started using "Casual" as an excuse for "sloppy."

While not pretending to know much about dress codes in Singapore, Etiquetteer will put forward that "smart casual" is likely to mean that ties are not required and that everything one wears be very pressed (even denim) or highly polished. No holes, patches, spots, please, and no scuffed shoes!

Dear Etiquetteer:

I’m planning to get married later this year. Do I have to have a maid of honor? I’

 m afraid of offending any of my close friends by choosing one over the others.

Dear Bride to Be:

You may be surprised to hear this, but you don’t have to have ANY attendants at all, not even bridesmaids. All you really need is a groom, an officiant, and a couple witnesses to make sure it’

 s legal.

Seriously, no maid or matron of honor is required for a wedding. When Etiquetteer’s parents got married at First Methodist Church all those years ago, Etiquetteer’s mother selected two close friends for her bridesmaids, and neither was singled out as maid of honor. And this in spite of the fact that Etiquetteer’s father had a best man and around eight ushers. Invite those close to you to attend you, and don’t worry about what to call them or whether you have equal numbers or not. It’s not nearly as important as knowing that you’

 ve picked the right spouse.


Reader Response to Coffee Service, Vol. 4, Issue 24

A couple readers have already made memorable responses to Etiquetteer's column on Perfectly Proper coffee service in an era with too many kinds of coffee, sweeteners, and dairy products:

From a Southern development professional: I will try to follow your advice and "make do" without my preferred non-dairy creamer (either powdered or liquid) even though I am lactose intolerant and any dairy creamer causes me some, er, discomfort later on. I will take it black instead I think.

Etiquetteer responds: Really, you ought to start traveling with your own supply of non-dairy creamer. Like those who have to take pills at mealtime, your non-dairy creamer keeps your health in check and, significantly, keeps you and those around you from experiencing your "discomfort."

From a distinguished Southern matron: I hate to ruin your day but this is the year 2006 and the coffee ritual has changed in the last hundred years! I must admit to being a bit put off when one of my house guests pulled a bottle of "creamer" from her suitcase since she didn't want to inconvenience me with buying a special hazelnut fakery. You've already shown us ways to offer sweetener packets at home and I really like them better.

Also you failed to note that clear glass containers sized for this purpose and used in restaurants are available everywhere.

As to the disposal of the paper packets, I fold the empty packet so the server can see it's empty, then place it on the saucer or on the table beside the mug. Bye the bye, you'll be happy to know that should I come to your house for coffee I drink it black, as Nature intended it to be drunk.

Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer is really going to have to Wag an Admonitory Digit at your house guest. Contrary to the reader above, whose special stash is used to manage a medical condition, your house guest dishonors your preparations for her enjoyment by indulging in personal preference. The message she’s sending is that anything you do for her will not be good enough. Some people may think Etiquetteer is being harsh here, but Etiquetteer remains firm that bringing one’s own refreshments to a party looks like one cares more about one’s own desires than about the feelings of others.

And as to those little glass containers, may the Deity of Your Choice protect us from the day when we all have to decorate our homes just like restaurants. Etiquetteer would rather see something more harmonious to achieve true Perfect Propriety.

Dear Etiquetteer: 

A very dear friend just announced her engagement, and I have a two-part inquiry for you:

Part 1: Is it true that the location and wedding dress should achieve some kind of harmony and set a tone for the event? For example, an afternoon garden wedding for 60 people might not warrant the donning of a bejeweled gown complete with train and ballgown skirt?

Part 2: What is the most Perfectly Proper way to indicate the above to a dear friend?

Dear Meddling:

Etiquetteer must agree with you that a wedding dress should be appropriate for the time and place of the wedding. American brides, however, have been flouting this Pillar of Perfect Propriety for decades. Somehow they believe that just because some man offered his hand in marriage they have the Divine Right to wear the Biggest Dress in the World anywhere they want.

Before you say anything to your friend, Etiquetteer wants you to think very carefully about whether or not it’s any of your business to comment on her wedding plans. It might not be.



Wedding Survey Results, Behavior and Customs, Vol. 5, Issue 19

At last Etiquetteer is returning to the the results of Etiquetteer’s Wedding Survey! The results are from the section of "Atttitudes about Wedding Customs and Behaviors." Answers in bold are Perfectly Proper.

Question: Do you agree with the American concept of the "princess bride" who gets to wear the largest dress in the world, boss her friends and family around, and generally get anything she wants because she’s the BRIDE?!

0.7% . . . . .Yes

12.7 % . . . Yes, if she remembers to write her thank-you notes

86.6% . . . .No

Etiquetteer finds it very ironic that the overwhelming majority of respondents don’t like the idea of a princess bride, and yet respond "anything she/they want" to other questions in this survey.

Question: Should a bride and groom get to do anything they want for their wedding if they are paying for it themselves?

54.2% . . . Yes, you bet they do!

45.8% . . . No, they should be considerate of their family and friends, for whom the wedding is also important.

Etiquetteer invites you to notice that respondents were fairly evenly divided on this question. This leads Etiquetteer to opine that the 54.2% may have had to fend off some parents with undesirable ideas about how the wedding should be conducted, and the 45.8% felt slighted, overlooked, or inconvenienced by some arrangements.

American mothers of brides and grooms, with their overbearing bossiness and dirty tricks, have become an American institution, unfortunately. Etiquetteer has been told at different times of mothers who secretly changed all the music for the wedding ceremony or wore "champagne-colored" gowns which were really white. Etiquetteer does not blame any bride or groom who’d want to get away from all that!

But Etiquetteer has also seen hearts bruised by engaged couples who plan destination weddings their parents or closest friends can’t afford to attend, beachside ceremonies that Feeble Old Granny can’t get to because it’s too taxing to walk over sand, weddings held deep in the country without adequate restrooms and only the lightest possible refreshments. Deity of Your Choice Above, people, don’t sacrifice convenience and comfort for picturesqueness! And if you want people to do you the honor of attending your wedding, be sure you make them feel honored!

Question: If a bride discovers that she is pregnant before marriage, what is the most correct type of wedding?

15.5% . . . Any kind of wedding she wants

50% . . . Any kind of wedding she and her groom want

8.5% . . . Any kind of wedding she, her groom, and her parents want

0.7% . . . A large, full-blown wedding with everyone there

2.8% . . . A mid-sized wedding with about half of who they might ordinarily invite

11.3% . . . A very small wedding with only parents and the most intimate family and friends present

2.8% . . . Just the two of them at City Hall

Even Etiquetteer is not so heartless as to condemn a couple to wed on their own at City Hall! Some respondents offered their own suggestions and comments:

  • [The pregnancy has] No bearing on the wedding
  • Whatever - I'm just glad they are marrying - hopefully for each other and their child.Etiquetteer responds: Slacker!
  • Let's assume love between the bride and groom, in which case a tasteful wedding that makes the immediate wedding parties' families reasonably happy should be appropriate. Etiquetteer responds: And a "tasteful wedding" under these circumstances is a very small one.
  • If still desired, the type of wedding they would have had prior to the discovery.
  • Any kind of wedding the bride, groom, and both sets of parents want as long as the guests are treated with consideration. Etiquetteer responds: One would hope that the guests would be treated with consideration at any wedding, whether the bride was pregnant or not.
  • How pregnant? One month - it's their business... eight or nine months, it looks tacky to have a giant wedding, and they're going to have to make their peace with stares and whispers.Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer couldn’t agree more!
  • Depends on how far along she is and her current living situation.
  • Shotgun!!! Etiquetteer responds: Don’t be so barbaric! Besides, you couldn’t get a shotgun through the metal detector at City Hall . . .
  • Any kind of Perfectly Proper wedding she, her groom, and her parents want They who pay have input so any kind if she and her groom are paying for it. Etiquetteer responds: Those with the gold may make the rules, but that doesn’t endow them with Perfect Propriety. Money rarely does, in fact.

Speaking of weddings, Etiquetteer would like to congratulate Mark Schueppert and Jim Hood, who were legally joined in matrimony on Saturday, May 20 in a Perfectly Proper ceremony at the Old State House in Boston. May you enjoy a long and happy life together in a state of Perfect Propriety!

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


Wedding Survey Results: Clothes, Vol. 5, Issue 11

Etiquetteer would like to thank everyone, anonymous and identified, who took Etiquetteer’s wedding survey over the last month. It has been very interesting intepreting the results; most respondents are more permissive than Etiquetteer would prefer . . . which makes this a Perfectly Proper time to review them.Exactly 145 responses to the survey were received. Females responded to the survey roughly twice as much as males, 69% to 31%. 54% said they had never been married in a wedding service, 39% had been married once, and 7% more than once. Of those who chose to define their politics, liberals responded most (52%), followed by moderates (21%), ultra-liberals (13%) and conservatives (11%). The ultra-conservatives stayed home, but 2% of the apathetics at least roused themselves to take the survey.As a general rule "anything they want" is not the Perfectly Proper answer. Unfortunately, it was the most popular. Answers given in bold are Perfectly Proper.Question One: When should a bride be allowed to wear white at her wedding?2.1%......At her first wedding, but only if she is a virgin.16.0%.. At her first wedding, regardless of her virginity.5.6%.... Only at her first wedding, not if she remarries for any reason.73.6%... At any wedding, if that’s what she wants.0.0%..... Never: it’s an archaic symbol.Comments: 1. As the mood strikes her. Their wedding, their rules!Etiquetteer responds: Ladies and gentlemen, behold the princess bride!2. "At any wedding" and "it's an archaic (and vulgar) symbol" both apply here.3. At any wedding if she wants, but she must be willing to accept some criticism for doing so. I think a bride's attire should reflect a respect for the commitment of marriage regardless of color.4. I think a bride should wear whatever she wants...but taste and thought should be used! Etiquetteer responds: And taste and thought dictate that a bride wears only white at her first wedding.Question Two: should a bride ever be allowed to wear black?68.1%.....Yes, if she wants to2.8%.......Yes, if she’s a Goth15.3%.....No under any circumstances9.0%.......No, it means she’s in mourningComments: 1. If she is insane.2. Black is fine; it might be the only color she looks good in.Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer remains unswayed by that argument. Midnight blue is a beautiful compromise color here.3. If there is a specific reason for wearing black that the guests are made aware of, then it would be OK, but still odd.Etiquetteer responds: What reason could that be? This strikes Etiquetteer as far too eccentric.4. As the mood strikes her. Their wedding, their rules!Etiquetteer responds: Again, the princess bride!5. Well, let’s see . . . what color are some formal tuxedos? Are the groom and groomsmen in mourning?Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer does not pretend to understand the contradictions between the clothes of ladies and the clothes of gentlemen, only to observe them.6. Yes, if the bride intends it as a sign of mourning and is being married in an informal ceremony and without a great deal of celebration (for example, if a parent just died.)Etiquetteer responds: Ah, but a wedding is the one exception to mourning dress. Emily Post, bless her, gave specific dispensation to bridesmaids in mourning to wear colors because a bridesmaid’s dress was really her uniform for the wedding. Etiquetteer offers the same dispensation for brides and could only add that, if you are so prostrate with grief that you wouldn’t dream of going to someone’s wedding without wearing black, then you are really not ready to be out in public yet and should decline the invitation.Question Three: Should a bride ever be allowed to wear red?84.6%...Yes, if she wants to15.4%...No, she’ll look like a prostituteEtiquetteer adds: This is not true of Eastern cultures, of course, where red is the traditional color for brides. But as Etiquetteer has said before, it’s the color of harlotry in the West, and therefore undignified for a bride.Question Four: What is the correct dress for a groom at a FORMAL wedding that starts before 5:00 PM?22.4%...Anything he wants24.5%...Dark suit and tie23.8%...Tuxedo27.3%.. Cutaway coat and striped trousers2.1%.....White tie and tailsEtiquetteer adds: There are those who might think of this as a trick question, but Etiquetteer finds it quite simple. Dark suits and ties are worn to informalweddings ("informal" really does not mean "without a tie;" Etiquetteer leaves that to "casual.") The cutaway coat with striped trousers (and frequently a pearl-gray top hat) is Perfectly Proper formal dress for a daytime wedding. Tuxedos and white tie, Etiquetteer must point out sternly, are evening clothes and completely incorrect before 5:00 PM.

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


The Case of the Broke Bridesmaid, Vol. 4, Issue 40

Dear Etiquetteer:My very dear friend moved to the other side of the country a couple months ago and is now having a shotgun wedding - albeit to a man she's very much in love with. Blessed Bride invited me to the wedding, asked me to be a bridesmaid and all those lovely things. Of course I accepted and am thrilled to be there for her special day.However, due to the time constraints, in a very short timespan I'm spending a great deal of money ($850 so far) on airfare, rental car, hotel, bridesmaid's dress & accessories (appropriate undergarments are not cheap!), wedding gift, shower gift, hairstyling, manicure, and pedicure on the wedding day, etc. I need some advice from you on some of the weekend's activities.One of her family members is hosting a bridal shower that is the night before the rehearsal dinner. She sent us the following information regarding the shower: Aunt Eccentric is hosting a dinner at a Mexican restaurant (everyone will have a choice of two dinners) the cake, drinks and the invites. Crazy Cousin is hosting the centerpieces.According to Crazy Cousin, "There is a ‘no-host bar’ meaning if you want booze, it is on you. If you gals (bridesmaids) wanted to host that part you could, but it could get costly at $20 a pitcher for margaritas. Also, dear bridesmaids, [Insert Name of Online Party Provider Here] has some cute inexpensive fiesta party favors if you gals wanted to do favors for the shower." Crazy Cousin also suggested that "one of you gals who is into scrapbooking puts together a pre-made small scrapbook that ladies can add their words of wisdom to Blessed Bride to in the captions at the shower then the shower photos can just be added once they are developed." A fellow bridesmaid said that she will host the bride's thank-you notes.Etiquetteer, please help! I’m already going broke just being there for her special day (not to mention that the Blessed Bride still owes me $500!) Can you advise me as to how much participation I should have in these events? As bridesmaids, we are going in together on a rather nice shower gift. I've picked out a perfectly proper wedding gift and even made by hand a lovely wedding card.As far as shower, rehearsal dinner, bachelorette party go, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be doing. What is expected of bridesmaids when it comes to bridal showers? I'm sober, so I have no intention on chipping in on alcoholic beverages. Are we expected to pay for tacky maraca keychains as favors? Should someone be planning a "bachelorette party?" What is the role of the maid of honor vs. other bridesmaids? As a bridesmaid, should I offer to help out in some way for the shower by paying for some element of the shower? Would it be all right if I bought a lovely book in which we record who gave which gifts at the shower? Or, purchased/made a scrapbook as suggested?Never mind that I feel the shower is not appropriate as it is two nights before the wedding and feels like it's just an excuse for gifts. And, the baby shower will be just around the corner, right in time for the holidays. And, I did all the legwork related to bridesmaid dresses since we're scattered throughout the country. I'm trying to put all my resentful feelings aside but as a singleton I'm finding this really hard to swallow. I am so happy for the bride & groom and want to be Perfectly Proper, as you say, but I can't afford to go broke on this.Dear Broke Bridesmaid:As the ladies at Smart and Sassy say, Etiquetteer’s head exploded reading your letter. What a tangle! Let’s try to sort this out, shall we?Etiquetteer suspects this whole bridesmaid thing was a lot easier "once upon a time" when everyone concerned with a wedding lived in the same town, or at least the same county. Then it was relatively easy to arrange for gown fittings, bridal showers, and other gatherings. These days we have sacrified Proximity to Personal Choice, but the true cost of that sacrifice is felt at weddings and other such gatherings the most.Believe it or not, it’s not the best of taste for family members to host the bridal shower. That’s usually done by the bridesmaids, or even by friends of the mother of the bride. Whichever members of the wedding party live closest to the bride (maid of honor or not) ought to take the lead here, but as maid of honor you should be involved in the arrangements. But not now; keep reading.In this case, let’s be thankful that Aunt Eccentric is easing the burden. But with her parceling out donor opportunities the way she is, it doesn’t really sound like she wants to, does it? Etiquetteer really doesn’t care for this sort of thing. If you’re going to throw the party, throw the party and don’t assign people (especially total strangers) to spend money on your own ideas. So Etiquetteer thinks you should treat Auntie’s suggestions as just that: suggestions. If she really wants other people to foot the bill for a party she’s hosting, then all of you should have been involved in the decisions about where and what the party would be.Under the circumstances, a bachelorette party sounds Most Improper, so please quash that at once if someone springs that idea. Etiquetteer just can’t take the idea of a pregnant bride in some nightclub outfit riding around in a stretch limo with her girlfriends, rolling down the window at intersections to say "Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?" And Etiquetteer shivers in fear to think what "hosting the bride’s thank-you notes" might mean.With the heavy commitment you’ve made merely to attend the wedding in the appropriate uniform, and all your work handling the fittings for the rest of the wedding party, Etiquetteer believes you to have fulfilled your duty apart from actually attending the wedding. What a pity, Etiquetteer notes acidly, that it seems no one offered you a room in one of their homes, knowing that you’d have to travel a distance to be there. And Etiquetteer is disappointed to see no reference to the bridesmaid’s luncheon, which the bride hosts for her bridesmaids and when she give them her gifts. Let’s hope this will be a lovely surprise for you when you arrive.

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