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.


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.


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 . . .


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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."

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: 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 notify@etiquetteer.com.


Reader Stories of Wedding Gowns, Vol. 5, Issue 8

As you might expect, Etiquetteer has heard some interesting stories in response to last week’s rambling on the color of the bridal gown. Etiquetteer will share some of the choicest with you this week:From a wedding guest: "Those of us with friends in [Insert Flashy Industry Here] are just happy when the bride isn't - as we say - half nekkid. This year I've seen bridesmaids all wearing black, brides carrying babies, four-footed maids of honor, veils worn at a bride's fourth wedding, drunken mothers, and a preacher who got her degree via mail order. None of them told me what to wear. [Etiquetteer adds: Etiquetteer just cannot approve of including pets in the wedding party, no matter how devoted you all are to each other. Lady Bird Johnson would not even allow her daughter’s pet poodle into the wedding photographs at the White House, and Etiquetteer wouldn’t dream of arguing with her.]From a young matron: My own mother got married at age and didn't wear white. She wore a light pink, tea-length gown that went well with the roses she carried for her bouquet. But my aunt loves clothing, and vintage clothing, and used to do fashion shows with wedding dresses of different vintages.I can tell you on her authority that in Colonial times in America, the most prestigious color to wear for one's wedding was black, because it was the costliest, most difficult to get fabric, due to dye technology of the era. Other less wealthy brides usually chose a solid color, a lovely deep blue, and a slightly faded green from the 1800s, as well as a nice brown taffeta were amongst those featured in her fashion show. [Etiquetteer adds:Those who are interested should rush out and readColor: A History of the Palette, by Victoria Findlay, which explains all about how black clothes were made black in the 18th and 19th centuries.]Only into the 20th century, as you noted during Victoria's reign in England, did white become the color of choice. When my mother's mother got married, she had a white flapper-style gown, but tradition of her day dictated that one didn't save her gown. After the wedding, she dyed it yellow and wore it until it was worn out. [Etiquetteer adds:Etiquetteer’s beloved grandmother made over her orange wedding dress after the wedding and regretted it ever afterward.]My great-great-grandmother (she and her sister were ladies-in-waiting and seamstresses for Queen Victoria) came to America with my infant great-grandmother and no husband in tow. They were very fine seamstresses, and made lace by hand. One nice tradition is that a lace collar that was on my grandmother's dress was saved and used for the wedding gowns of my mother and older sister. We decided to keep it just for eldest daughters, so I chose a different piece of antique handmade lace to incorporate into my own wedding dress.From a Midwestern matron: My step-mother was very opposed to my marrying my husband in any sort of public ceremony since we had lived together for four years prior to our wedding. (My step-mother went so far as to offer us money if we would elope!) I wanted a wedding and so the compromise was a small wedding at my parent’s home on the East Coast. It was lovely. My husband and I wrote our vows and I wore an ivory tea-length dress and an ivory hat with a small veil on the rim and fresh flowers on the side.

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White and Other Weddings, Vol. 5, Issue 7

Etiquetteer has been exceedingly interested in the responses to date to Etiquetteer’s Wedding Survey. So many attitudes have been expressed about the color of the bridal gown that this a good time for Etiquetteer to delve into some of the history surrounding this garment. Etiquetteer was surprised several years ago to learn that brides in ancient Rome wore gowns and veils of flaming orange. (Etiquetteer has not learned why this color was chosen; if you have any ideas, please inform Etiquetteer at once.) The first instance Etiquetteer has heard of a white wedding gown was the first wedding of Mary, Queen of Scots, to Francis II in 1558. Mary knew how to dress to impress, and she chose a white gown for her wedding, with magnificent jewels, knowing it would set off her skin and rich auburn hair to perfection. But unrelieved white was what court ladies had always worn in mourning, so Mary’s choice raised a few regal eyebrows. Mary’s attire for her other two weddings was equally unconventional, which ought to comfort brides eager to make their weddings ostentatiously individual. When Mary married Lord Darnley in 1565, she approached the altar as the widow of Francis II in the deuil blanc, the rigidly presecribed mourning white of the French court. Between the nuptial mass and the feasting, Mary devised a ceremony in her bedchamber where each of the nobles present would remove a pin from her wedding veil. She then changed into another gown for the two banquets and dancing that followed. At her 1567 marriage to the Earl of Bothwell, three months after the murder of Lord Darnley, Mary appeared in alleged mourning, elaborately gold-embroidered black velvet with a white veil. And then, of course, everything fell apart: Bothwell was imprisoned in Scandinavia and Mary had her head cut off by Elizabeth I. You see what happens when a bride wears black? Mary may have started a royal trend with her white wedding gown. The next Etiquetteer hears of it, George III’s eldest daughter, the Princess Royal, is preparing a white silk wedding gown for her own wedding. Because her groom was a widower, she was supposed to have gold embroidery, but her mother the Queen permitted her to use silver instead. Perhaps silver is purer than gold? Of course the most famous example of the white gown, the one that started the craze at every level of society, was the beautiful white satin dress Queen Victoria wore at her marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1840. Before that, Etiquetteer imagines everyone just trotted out their best dresses whatever the color. But Victoria changed all that, and a white satin wedding gown became the default for generations. Indeed, this mania even gets mentioned in Gone With the Wind. Rhett Butler ends up smuggling in a bolt of white satin for Maybelle Merriwether after all the wedding gowns in the Confederacy were cut up to make flags. Of course, back in the day wedding finery was thought only Perfectly Proper for younger brides. Once you got to what Jane Austen called "the years of danger" elaborate weddings were not considered in the best of taste, because they unflatteringly called attention to the bride’s age. In Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, Mrs. Archer has been saving her own wedding gown (white satin, of course) for her daughter Janey. "Though poor Janey was reaching the age when pearl gray poplin and no bridesmaids would be thought more ‘appropriate.’" Even Letitia Baldrige, who married in 1963 at age 37, chose a knee-length white suit and a white fur hat with veil rather than a full-length wedding gown. To her, one just didn’t do that after age 32. Now, of course, first-time brides older than 25 are much more common, and this silly stigma has been lifted. Still, Etiquetteer always advises to dress appropriately to one’s age. It’s no good pretending you’re 19-year-old Miss Dewy Freshness drifting down the aisle on a cloud of tulle to the arms of 22-year-old Mr. Manley Firmness when you aren’t. Etiquetteer has been surprised to hear from several people who just don’t like white for brides. This sharp opinion made Etiquetteer think about his grandmothers, neither of whom married in white. About 1919 Etiquetteer’s paternal grandparents married in a daytime ceremony. Held in the parlor of the bride’s family’s New Orleans boardinghouse, the bride wore a green daytime suit with fur scarf and matching hat; the groom wore his World War I army uniform because he couldn’t afford a suit. Having no idea she was imitating the Roman brides of yore, Etiquetteer’s beloved maternal grandmother sewed and embroidered an exquisite dancing dress of bright orange crepe for her wedding in 1920. Attending a Leap Day dance with her sweetheart, they surprised everyone by leading the Grand March, which turned out to be the famous march from Lohengrin we all know as "Here Comes the Bride." A justice of the peace met them at the end and married them in the presence of the astonished and delighted company. So you see that brides can get away with colors, but Etiquetteer just can’t approve of red for Western brides. Red, of course, is the color that Asian brides have worn for centuries, but in the West red is still the color of harlotry (as in "red-light district.") We have only to look at Madonna, who wore a strapless red gown to her wedding to fiery actor Sean Penn in 1985. Of course they got divorced in 1989; see what happens when the bride wears red? Some references for those who are interested: Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, by John Guy Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III, by Flora Fraser Persuasion, by Jane Austen The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell A Lady, First, by Letitia Baldrige

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