"Maybe they didn't like Miss Lilian's white hair," quipped a State Department aide.
Whether it was the color of her hair of the hue of her dress, Miss Lillian Carter, along with the other 22 members of the American delegation to the state funeral for President Tito, was criticized by some Yugosalvs for her appearance at the Belgrade rites.
One former Yugoslav ambassador compalined of what he considered the Americans' poor taste in failing to wear appropriate mourning dress at a wreath-laying ceremony before the funeral.
The distress may well have stemmed from the disappointment that President Carter himself did not attend the state funeral.
American oficials explained that the ceremony, in the Federal Assembly Building, took place soon after the delegation's plane put down in Belgrade and before anyone had a chance to change.
According to Albert Eisele, Vice President Walter Mondale's press secretary, who was on the trip, the delegation was given the official schedule for the trip once they were on the plane. And if they had loosened their ties for overnight flight, they were properly dressed when they got off the plane, he said. "They may not have been in black dresses or dark suits, but no one was casually dressed," said Eisele, who pointed out that most of the delegation has only one day to prepare for the trip.
Travelers on official trips are given a briefing book specifying appropriate dress for such occasions, according to Eisele. "The vice president has made 12 foreign missions in behalf of the president and they know the protocol involved," he added.
According to designer Bill Blass, there is no exception to the rule of black dress and black hat for women at a state funeral. Dark stockings and gloves are optional, he says.
"Those who have been in diplomatic life know that women wear black for a state funeral and that men wear a black or very dark blue suit and black shoes," says Letitia Baldeige, former White House social secretary in the Kennedy administration and author of the revised "Amy Vanderbilt Book of Etiquette."
"I'm sure the criticism reflects more their pique that President Carter wasn't there than criticism of Miss Lillian. As for me, Miss Lillian can do no wrong," she said.