DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it the shape of the sleeves or the fluffiness of the skirt that separates a wedding dress from a princess’s or a debutante’s?

GENTLE READER: Sleeves? You have seen sleeves on wedding or debutante dresses in the last decade?

Since white strapless dresses became the standard for both debutantes and brides, Miss Manners fails to see any difference between them. Or much charm, for that matter. She at least hopes that young ladies who participate in both rituals do not expect their parents to spring for two such costumes.

A debutante is probably attending a ball (as opposed to the tasteful “small dance” of yesteryear), and so a ball dress is fitting. However, some modesty was expected of an innocent young lady on her first appearance in adult society. Ha.

Proper bridal dresses may be fluffy or not, above and below, but they are supposed to be somewhat subdued as a show of respect for the seriousness of the occasion and, when the ceremony is religious, for a house of worship. Unless they are at least temporarily covered, dresses that start at the top (one hopes) of the bosom make it clear that it is the party, not the ceremony, that the bride considers the most important part of the occasion.

Besides, they make her look naked in those head shots of the couple.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: After several months of being confined to hospitals and rehab facilities, I’m confused about proper behavior of patients when there are two strangers living together.

How to keep some sense of privacy? Guests, medical procedures, sleep interruptions can be stressful during an illness.

GENTLE READER: Yes, and you should be entitled to sick leave from etiquette, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. If it did, your roommate would also be free to drive you crazy. Miss Manners imagines that you probably already have a good idea of what that can be like.

The situation requires what might be called compassionate inattentiveness. That means that while you should be alert to any emergency affecting your roommate, you should be oblivious to all conversation, medical or social, that is not directed to you. Any information you overhear should be considered unheard, to the extent of your showing signs of having heard it for the first time if your roommate chooses to repeat it to you later.

As for conversation that is over-directed to you, your own illness can be cited to protect you from unwanted chatter: “I’m so sorry, but I need to rest now.”

If the sleep interruptions are from avoidable noise, such as television or telephone calls, you should negotiate politely with your roommate about the proper hours — preferably in the presence of a hospital authority, such as a nurse, to whom you can, if necessary, confidentially report violations.

Unfortunately, this does not help you with inadvertent noises, such as groans and snoring. Nor does it help you with inconsiderate roommates, which is why people who are able to spring for outrageously priced single rooms do so. The most you can do then is to tell your doctor — out of earshot of your roommate — that you are suffering from lack of sleep and hope that another accommodation is available.

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

, by Judith Martin

Distributed by Universal Uclick for UFS