The Washington Post

Miss Manners: Hand towels in the powder room are to be used, not admired

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I are flummoxed. In our powder room, we keep a pretty container with decorated paper hand towels on the vanity right next to the sink. There is also a towel ring on the wall with a towel that is there as a decoration. (It’s embroidered and is partly satin, and to us it is obviously a show towel only.)

Inevitably, some, if not most, guests will use the show towel rather than the paper hand towels.

Why do you think this is? We would think it’s obvious that if there are paper hand towels in a powder room, they are to be used, rather than a show towel hanging on a rack. We certainly use the paper towels at other people’s homes. Are we doing something wrong?

GENTLE READER: Yes: trying to show off with a hand towel.

Miss Manners has heard of show horses and show dogs, and she is aware that some people use expensive art or automobiles to show off. But to hang a towel as a showpiece is ridiculous, and to expect guests to understand that they are unworthy of drying their hands on it is insulting.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My wife says I shouldn’t bother you with this question. It might be less than important in the scheme of social relations, but it’s been bugging me.

We were invited (by telephone) to a Super Bowl watch party. Along with a snack item, we showed up two hours before, dressed casually (me in a sport shirt and slacks, my wife in a sweater and skirt).

That was pretty much the dress code for the 10 other guests — except for Joe and his wife. They brought the guacamole, but he was dressed as though he was going to bed. He had on what looked like pajama bottoms and a rather raggedy-looking sweatshirt from one of the competing teams. His wife was only a little more “formal” in another team sweatshirt and color-coordinated sweatpants.

Should someone have spoken to Joe beforehand about what clothes were appropriate, or should we talk with them now, after the fact? There was no willingness to say anything, just a few raised eyebrows.

GENTLE READER: Of course you should come to Miss Manners with this — who else acknowledges the symbolic importance of dress codes? (Nearly everyone notices them, as you know from those raised eyebrows, but even you feel sheepish about doing so.)

The people whom you should not bother with this are Joe and his wife. Their mistake could have been an accident — who knows what “casual” means? — but in any case, it would be rude to chastise them for it. Besides, it wouldn’t accomplish anything. Either they realized that they were improperly dressed, in which case you surely do not want to increase their embarrassment, or they didn’t notice or don’t care.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Granddaddy always took his hat off when going indoors. Is this still true?

GENTLE READER: You’ll have to check with Granddaddy. If he is a gentleman, Miss Manners trusts that he still does.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site,, where you can send her your questions.

, by Judith Martin

Distributed by Universal Uclick for UFS

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