Miss Manners: To button or not to button, that is the question

October 14, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: After seeing so many men keeping their jackets buttoned when standing, sitting to chat, forecasting weather, playing a musical instrument, lecturing a class, or sitting at dinner, and others leaving them completely unbuttoned in these situations, I have searched for your say. You once opined that buttoning a vest’s bottom button is rebellious.

Should a conductor in black tie leave his jacket unbuttoned? Unbutton it to play piano? Keep it buttoned sitting at dinner? Does a vest make a difference? I wonder about a cummerbund.

GENTLE READER: All that fuss, just because Edward VII overindulged!

As a result of a fat monarch’s inability to button the bottom button of his weskit or his jacket, here we are, a century later, with even trim gentlemen forced to do the same. Miss Manners would have thought that the London tailors who came up with this solution would have been better employed making their king a suit that fit him. Or at least consenting to move his buttons.

There is no use rebelling: From Edwardian times on, proper tailors have been making suits that hang right only with that last button unfastened, and that may require the jacket to be entirely unbuttoned when the gentleman is seated. Yet controversy still rages about whether the cummerbund or weskit that is worn with a dinner jacket allows, or even requires, the jacket to be buttoned when its wearer is standing.

However, a gentleman who is a musician should be immune from such unseemly debates. He ought to be in full evening dress — white tie as opposed to black tie — where the swallowtail coat hangs open over the pique waistcoat. Conductors are seen from the back, where the tails are fetching, or at least amusing. Pianists can throw the tails back over the piano bench with a flourish. Once a gentleman who was dressed to take Miss Manners to a ball had so much fun doing that, that he could hardly be persuaded to leave the piano bench and go to the ball.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have always believed that you should let those exiting go first, as in the case of an elevator. I am a male and was in the process of exiting the small copy room at the office. The doorway is big enough only for one person at a time.

A female was racing into the room and practically pushed me out of the way. I made a comment that she should let people exit before pushing into the room. She replied with an expected ladies-first comment.

Who is right? Should she have waited for me to exit or should I have backed up to allow her in?

GENTLE READER: Ah, yes, nothing says “ladylike” as much as pushing people aside and demanding precedence.

Your colleague is as wrong in theory as she is in practice. “Ladies first” is a social system that does not apply in the working world. But in any case, a lady or anyone else trying to enter a room should defer to someone who is halfway through the door. Yet Miss Manners must remind you that not doing so is no excuse for pushing back verbally.

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

2012, by Judith Martin

Distributed by Universal Uclick for UFS

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