Dear Miss Manners:

Folks all over seem to pay a lot of attention to the dresses (or lack thereof) actresses wear to the Oscars ceremony every year. I admit I pay more attention to what the men are wearing.

Many of the men, indeed, seem to be crying out for attention by having an obvious "outfit" put on them, instead of just getting dressed for the occasion. Last year, every other man seemed to be dressed for a funeral.

I refer to the black four-in-hand with what otherwise appears to be a dinner jacket. Offenders seemed to be taking the phrase "black tie" too literally. To discourage the funereal trend in other venues, should we rephrase our invitations to say "black bow tie"?

It also appears, from the evidence offered by actors and world leaders alike, that men's cuffs are disappearing under apelike, too-long jacket sleeves. A good half-inch of white cuff should always show (unless, perhaps, when you're in uniform). It's not hard to do all of this right, guys -- just follow the lead of Sidney Poitier and Woody Allen. At least they make it look easy.

You and Miss Manners should watch the Academy Awards together -- not just to share a shudder over those ghastly attempts at fooling with the correct details of gentlemen's clothing.

It is also because anyone else would think you were crazy to scorn the actors who wear those dour and otherwise strange outfits for failing to get it "right" and seeming, instead, "to be crying out for attention."

Well, of course, they are. That's the point. Both their profession and the occasion all but demand it.

In polite society, gentlemen pride themselves on the correctness and fine tailoring of their evening clothes, so looking conspicuous would constitute failure. (Ladies have the harder task of looking noticeable without being lewd.) This is why the Academy Awards show is a good opportunity to make funny comments and a bad one to pick up fashion tips.

Dear Miss Manners:

I was always brought up to follow a lady directly behind and to the side as we made our way into a room and through a civilized crowd, sometimes, if necessary, guiding her with my hand at the small of her back. This has always worked well in relatively uncrowded places.

But what of dense and/or unruly crowds such as those in jammed nightclubs or sporting events?

My inclination has been to take her by the hand and lead her through such crowds, both to assume the burden of countless "excuse me's" and to shoulder a path so that she would not be jostled.

Is there a rule here or should I make a judgment on a case-by-case basis?

You have been taking "ladies first" too literally: A gentleman is supposed to lead the way through a dense crowd, rather than use your method of shoving her from behind.

That is the general rule. As for when to hold hands, Miss Manners is afraid that you must decide that, as you say, on a case-by-case basis.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

(c)2003, Judith Martin