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Miss Manners: Formal dress for women has become matter of choice

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DEAR MISS MANNERS: I attended an exclusive dinner that was clearly identified on the highly sought-after invitation as “white tie.” Although the men in attendance were all clad according to the formality requirements — white tie and tails, not tuxes — several women actually arrived in short cocktail dresses, and one was even in a short cocktail-type suit.

I won’t even talk about the women who wore dress pants! To make matters worse, some of the women members of the organization hosting the dinner were among those in short cocktail dresses.

Although the organization threatens to turn improperly dressed men away at the door, there has been no such threat for women offenders. But I have to wonder, is their fashion faux pas not as bad? Am I hopelessly mired in the past to believe that “white tie” remains the most formal of the formal events and, as such, demands long dresses, not short — and certainly not pants — for women?

GENTLE READER: You do have a point, even one with which Miss Manners agrees. But you would be wise not to press it.

Since the 19th century, it has been thought that the proper sartorial division between the genders is that the gentlemen should be dressed conventionally, distinguished only by the perfection of their tailoring, while ladies should indulge in fanciful variety.

You don’t need Miss Manners to tell you that there have been revolts in both ranks. There are gentlemen who insist on dolling up their evening clothes with strange vests, perky ties, peeking non-handkerchiefs and such. And ladies who seek a standard evening uniform of little black dresses or trousers.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I told my pregnant daughter-in-law that she looked good but tired. She took offense to this by saying that wasn’t a compliment. I was just stating what I thought was a fact. Was it rude of me?

GENTLE READER: It is certainly tiresome. Miss Manners is as puzzled as your daughter-in-law why many people seem to think that this is a helpful remark.

To make it so, please amend it to, “You must be tired — tell me what I can do for you so that you have time to take a rest.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I were married two years ago June, and I have yet to send out thank-you cards. The truth is, I have been very preoccupied with now two children and a husband in grad school, not to mention several address moves. I lie awake at night feeling terrible. What should I do? I just feel like it’s way too late now. Help!

GENTLE READER: As you are up anyway, why don’t you spend the time writing those letters?

Miss Manners hopes you are not up waiting for her to tell you never mind, it’s too late anyway, so there’s no use feeling bad.

Yes, it is disgracefully late, which is why you are right to feel terrible. The only remedy is to write now, saying, in specific detail, how much you continue to enjoy those wonderful presents. And please leave out the part about being so preoccupied. Your benefactors are busy, too, but they found the time to try to please you.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

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