The shops are full of hats and gloves. Miss Manners can hardly believe her eyes. Is it possible that she will soon be able to walk around in broad daylight dressed like a lady, without making a spectacle of herself?
It is now some decades since Miss Manners was instructed in the use of these badges of ladyhood by her dear mother. It is even some years since Miss Manners began to notice that such conventional -- even banal -- items as her little white gloves in summer or her hats at teatime were being regarded as eccentricities.
Was there something else, Miss Manners wondered, that her mother should have told her? Such as "Dear, throw those silly things away. A lady is now known by her T-shirt, which should properly have her most heartfelt sentiments inscribed neatly across the bodice."
In the absence of such a change of orders, Miss Manners went on doing what she had been told, the only difference being that she now enjoyed the thrill of shocking society with her outrageous and original style.
She is, however, more than willing to trade that distinction for company. And although she is aware that the new hats and gloves are likely to be worn as humorous adjuncts to outfits for which they were never intended, in the spirit of Post-Modernist Dressing, she wants, as a matter of historic record, to pass on the rules.
Only in very modern times (an era known to Miss Manners as Since Everything Went to Pot), have either ladies or gentlemen habitually gone bareheaded. It was not just that a lady or gentleman would not dream of going out without a hat -- one wouldn't go to bed without a nightcap. (On the head. Drinking habits are about the same as they have always been.)
One was certainly not considered dressed without something on the head. "Hairdressing" meant dressing the hair: An elaborate evening coiffure was not complete without jewels, flowers or feathers among the curls. Even really informally dressed ladies who were just hanging around the house wore flouncy caps.
In the 20th century, the evening headdress shrank into the cocktail hat and "headache band," and the at-home decoration into scarfs done up in bundles of various shapes. Then even these pretty much disappeared, leaving ladies only the daytime going-out hat. Gentlemen's daytime and evening hats remained nearly the same for much longer.
But no matter how fiercely fashion tried to blow away hats entirely, many people -- and not only certifiable cranks, such as Miss Manners -- hung on to them. Cowboys, taxi drivers, fishermen, baseball players and others still knew that a hat was part of one's identity and dignity.
The last coherent rules (the ones Miss Manners learned as a girl) were:
A lady always wears a hat when she goes out in the daytime, and without fail (which is twice as strong as "always") for dress-up occasions, such as weddings, funerals or other religious services, and formal luncheons and teas. She does not remove the hat until she reenters her house, where she must never wear one, even when entertaining guests who are expected to do so. For evening, what calls itself a hat should be only an anchor for miscellaneous items from the notions department, the sorts of things that used to be part of the hairdressing.
On the contrary, the gentleman's hat is, with certain religious exceptions, only a sign of respect in his gesture of removing it. (The swift-minded will realize that he must therefore be wearing one.) He wears it only outdoors or in a large public indoor space (an astrodome, but not an elevator); even outdoors, he lifts it slightly upon greeting a lady.
Gloves are also never worn in one's own house, and hardly ever by gentlemen in anyone else's, opera and ball gloves for men having disappeared heaven knows where.
Ladies wear gloves when they are guests. They need not remove gloves for shaking hands or dancing, but if a lady so much as touches anything to eat or drink with a glove on, warts will grow all over the hand underneath. If she wears jewelry over a glove, Miss Manners will confiscate it on the spot.
She is confident that once people get the idea, they will wonder how they were ever able to conduct a semblance of polite society without such wonderful properties.
No wonder people who are grossly insulted nowadays have to swallow it by muttering, "I guess you're feeling hostile" and offering to talk it out. They have no gloves to smack the offender with. How can you smack a cad across the face if you haven't brought your gloves?
Q. What are the duties and responsibilities of a guest of honor? Are they different for a wedding reception, a ladies' luncheon, a business dinner or a surprise birthday party?
A. The chief responsibility of the guest of honor is to go home. Nobody else is supposed to depart first, and guests find it tiresome to hang around while honorees bask too long in their moment of glory. This is particularly true of bridal couples who don't mind demonstrating that they have nothing more urgent on their minds than partying.
The surprise victim's chief task is to look both surprised and pleased at being the centerpiece for a party for which he alone is unprepared. All other guests of honor are responsible for getting there on time, and that also includes bridal couples who would prefer to neglect the guests to pose for pictures.
And all are required to express profuse thanks to their hosts, orally and in writing. Only business dinner guests and bridal couples need not reciprocate.
Q. I am a member of a group which has, as its purpose, the planning and execution of an annual formal-attire canoe outing. During the daylong float down a very placid river, we partake of caviar and pa te' and freely quaff champagne.
Having solved the problems of finding tulip-shaped, nonbreakable champagne glasses and the graceful methods of upending while keeping a firm grasp upon said libation, we find ourselves faced with another etiquette dilemma, which may prove divisive in our ranks.
This is the question of whether gloves should be worn by the female members of our company.
The ladies are equally divided upon the question. Relative peace was achieved, after a boisterous discussion, when it was proposed and unanimously agreed upon that we submit this burning issue to you.
A. Ladies, even boisterous ones, never go to social events -- hardly ever even venture outside of their own houses -- without hats and gloves.
What has perhaps confused you is the slightly sporting nature of your excursion. Even then, many sports -- riding, gardening, baseball -- have their own particular hat and glove requirements, although it is true that ladies do not wear gloves swimming.
"Floating," however, is not an active sport; the ladies must wear gloves. Quaffing champagne and partaking of caviar and pa te' are, so at that time, the ladies must remove their gloves.
Perhaps all this is confusing. Wouldn't you like Miss Manners to go along and demonstrate?
Q. A business associate in my office has recently found enlightenment through some est-like encounter group. He is so enthusiastic about his new passion that he is telling everybody -- friends, colleagues, even clients.
He has already told me he "senses" I would really benefit from taking this "training."
Since I have to work with this man, I have always been polite and cordial, but I have absolutely no desire to have any kind of personal relationship with him. I am quite close to his ex-wife, and know too much about his personal life from her perspective.
Now this man is repeatedly asking me (and others in the office) to lunch, and I'm sure he wants to proselytize.
How can I refuse and continue to maintain a pleasant working relationship with him -- and continue to lunch with other associates? Can I accept on condition he not discuss his new religion? Can I refuse to discuss certain topics at lunch?
Can you come up with a more creative option? I don't think I could keep lunch down if I had to listen to his spiel.
A. Unsolicited therapy is one of the curses of our age. People who kindly offer to help one, often suggesting solutions for problems one didn't know one had, are a menace.
If you don't learn to defend yourself, you will be at the mercy of everyone who has discovered a new diet, exercise program, astrologist or saint-upon-earth. One must always be polite, but one needn't therefore suffer the effects of other people's rudeness. And it is rude, as well as arrogant, to presume to prescribe for others. By declaring that you would benefit from whatever form of help he offers, the proselytizer is making it clear that he finds you unsatisfactory as is.
The best way to deal with bores is to avoid them. A good working relationship does not require socializing. You can already declare a lunch date when he asks you, or, failing one, announce your intention to eat alone because you want to think.
Should you get stuck, the polite way to say "Shut up, you're boring me senseless" is, "Yes, so you've already told me," accompanied by a vacant smile and followed by a change of subject. The polite way to say "You have your nerve telling me how I should run my life" is, "You're very kind to take an interest in my personal affairs, considering how little you know about me, but it really isn't necessary, thank you."
In this case, you are in a position to add, "You know I've always put aside any personal information I happen to have heard about you from your ex-wife, because we have such a nice professional relationship. Let's keep it that way." That is the polite method of blackmail.