I am not such a terrible fellow. I am generous with my time and attention to people, kind to animals, I tell some good jokes, I avoid mean ones. But I'm not a saint.

One of my worst sins, it seems, to some people, is my poor grooming. I wear old clothes a lot, my hair looks like a bird's nest not infrequently, and somehow that suits me fine.

Now, Miss Manners, maybe that disqualifies me from the possibility of being your friend. That would sadden me a bit. But I would be all right. But suppose one of your family members invited me for lunch. Would you not refrain from heaping abuse on me, without a trace of humor?

I was caught in a similar situation recently and felt trapped. If I got up and left, I feared I'd hurt my friend. If I stayed, I'd have to accept those immoderate outbursts from my friend's father, and I did so. It was easiest to accept it without any back talk and leave when it seemed to be most natural--which was VERY shortly after we finished eating. I had little appetite.

Well, Miss Manners, I stuck it out. My friend understands perfectly, and apologized for his father's behavior. But I wish I had left right away. Would that seem to you, O great arbiter of propriety, to be an acceptable alternative?

If you think my hair is tangled, you should see how tangled what's underneath is.

A. If your question consisted solely of the surface inquiry, Miss Manners would have no trouble agreeing with you that it is rude to critique guests at one's table. She would also rule that you made the correct choice originally, in treating it as an excess of parental emotion, rather than making it the occasion of an open break.

But then there is that other question lurking in your letter--would a person of refinement not believe that appearances go for nothing, and what counts is only a noble heart? Only slightly beneath that thought, does she detect that you are actually bragging about your appearance, and using it to defy general social standards in the hope of provoking people whom you can then label superficial.

Miss Manners cannot allow all this to pass by her without registering a protest. The way you choose to look is a symbolic rendition of how you feel. That is why costume and makeup are important elements to characterization in the theater.

Note that Miss Manners has limited her criticism to the areas in which you have a choice. The quality of your features is not a matter of choice; whether you comb your hair is. If you have old clothes because you cannot afford others, it is not held against you; if you select old clothes to wear when more of an effort is expected, you have signaled to your hosts that you do not think them worth that exertion.

When people defy such trivial and easily accomplished conventions as dress and grooming, Miss Manners has her suspicions about the nobility of heart to which they lay claim.