Q: Recently, at my high school, there has been a slight disagreement concerning the definition of casual, semiformal and formal dress. Would you please give the final word on what these three terms refer to?
Also, what is considered the proper dress for the following occasions: a high-school dance in which there will be mostly dancing and not much sitting; a banquet during which awards will be given and, of course, dinner will be served.
A: Recently, in the world, there has been a slight disagreement concerning the definition of casual, semiformal and formal dress, so why should your high school be any different? The general definition of all three these days seems to be what Miss Manners would lump together under the heading of dishabille. Look it up. If there is a French teacher handy, try de'shabille'.
Therefore, Miss Manners would be a fool to attempt to "give the final word" on such a shifty matter -- and yet she does not want to retreat into blather about "prevailing community standards," that being the last refuge of people who can't make up their minds.
Let us make up a reasonable set of standards for a high-school community, and then stand back and watch the fun as everybody goes into tailspins disagreeing with it.
"Formal," Miss Manners supposes, means black tie for the boys and long dresses for the girls. (She says this tentatively because to her, but to practically no one else, that is "informal" while "formal" is white tie. Never mind -- that is her problem and needn't concern you.)
You will probably expect Miss Manners to approve of this for school dances, but she does not. First of all, it puts a financial strain on most students and, higher on her warped scale of values, it is inappropriate for gentlemen under the age of 18 to wear evening dress.
"Semiformal," a term Miss Manners loathes because it suggests a humorous contrast between the top half of a costume and the bottom, probably means suits and ties for the boys and dresses for the girls. This is what Miss Manners recommends for both dances and banquets at high school. It gives the girls quite a range of choice in the elaborateness of their outfits and the boys extremely little, which is the proper order of things.
What "casual" means to high schoolers, Miss Manners trembles to think. A definition that would suit her, as appropriate for classroom and related activities, would be sport shirts or sweaters and trousers for both genders. With the one exception of the name of the school, these should be wordless. That means no statements of one's political or romantic proclivities on the chest, and no stranger's name on the backside.
Q: I am an executive staff member for a nonprofit organization. My salary is modest. Our board members are active fund-raisers, and they often invite me to their homes for elegant dinners or other posh events designed to limber-up the wallets of the other guests.
I, of course, am there to answer questions and represent the organization. This is my third year on the job.
My problem is that during this time, I have been lavishly entertained on a number of occasions by several members of the board. Are thank-you notes enough? Does my status as employe eliminate the need for me to return their kindnesses with invitations to the low rent district?
A: Yes. When you sing for your supper, you need not also pay the piper.