Sunday, January 22, 2012

Etiquette

I found a book the other day which I immediately realized I had to bring home with me. Rather incongruously it was on top of an Atkins diet book in the occupational therapy cubby at the hospital. The book is this one:
Original edition was 1922. This is the 11th edition, 95th printing, published in 1965 (Emily herself died in 1960 at the age of 86). There are many revisions I can imagine happened between 1922 and 1965, most along the lines of "in this age of women's equality" which inevitably comes right before something like this:
"She who changes her dress and fixes her hair for her husband's homecoming is sure to greet him with greater charm than she who thinks whatever she happens to have on is good enough. The very fact of looking more attractive makes one feel less tired and therefor more charming and better company." (671)

Perhaps she has a point, but it is a good thing I don't have a husband because mostly now that I am almost 40 I subscribe to Tina Fey's, when you're 40 you get to take your pants off when you get home (See her book Bossypants which I am going to shelve next to Etiquette from now on). I am fairly certain the woman pictured below (Emily Post herself) did not put on sweatpants when she got home from work:





I was surprised to find the variety of situations for which we need to know the social rules. (And I have to mention here that there is an entire chapter entitled, "An audience with the Pope.")

"Dressing for television: You can always decide on appropriate clothing for your television appearance by calling and asking the advice of the producer..." (121) Do you think Bjork did this when she chose the swan outfit for the 2001 Oscars?

For when you go on a trip: "Cancel milk delivery.... Have all laundry and cleaning delivered before you leave so that it is not left hanging outside for days or weeks.... Never give your travel plans or dates to your local newspaper in advance...." (130) (I can see it now, Tapestry Artist Leaves Studio Empty for 6-month Walk from Mexico to Canada: Locals ask if she is clinically insane or just a little nuts.)

"Whenever a damask or linen cloth is used, the middle crease must be put on so that it is an absolutely straight and unwavering line down the exact center from head to foot...." (178) Does that mean I have to use an iron?

Since I am getting married this summer and I was curious about what Emily Post had to say on this rather monumental event, I flipped pretty quickly to the wedding section. By the time I read the second paragraph, I was convinced Miss Post was not going to be of much help to me:

"Let it be said at the outset that our discussion of wedding plans will include a complete description of the most elaborate wedding possible. Not because more than a very few will want or be able to carry out every detail, but because only then can the pattern be complete. In other words, it is important to explain all possible details of perfection so that you can follow as many as you find pleasing and practical for you." (339)

Being a bit of a perfectionist myself, my heart sank a little as I turned the page... In fact I flipped through the whole chapter and couldn't find the section labeled, "Lesbian weddings". (Certainly it was just an oversight on Miss Post's part, after all, she didn't know Harvey Milk, Stonewall, or the successful gay wedding market Vermont has staged since they started letting same-sex couples get hitched in 2000 (civil unions, marriages in 2009)--brilliant way to increase tourism, don't you think?). 

And by the time she started talking about "eight or ten bridesmaids, flower girls, pages, and a ring bearer" I was feeling a little ill. Did you know that black fruitcake is traditional for a wedding reception, and, Emily adds, most expensive. (350) You have to have flowers including various corsages and arrangements, canopys, special carpets, and Wagner's Lohengrin for the wedding procession (HELL no). That bit of information may come in handy some day at a cocktail party however ("[a cocktail party] can be the answer to a busy housewife's prayer", 215). So just remember, "Here Comes the Bride" is actually part of a Wagner opera with some less-than-romantic plot twists.

The number one question I've gotten about my wedding after, "When and where" is, "What are you wearing?" I really could use some help from Emily Post on this one, but alas chapter 44, The clothes for the wedding party did nothing to enlighten me. 
"At her first wedding a bride suitably wears a dress of white and a bridal veil whether she be sixteen or forty!" (360)
Firstly, I will be just three weeks from forty (got in under the wire, eh?) when I get married and I resent the implication that I'm almost over the marriageable hill and secondly, I look horrible in white. I'm a pasty caucasian of European descent who sunburns easily and freckles cutely not at all. What I really want to know is is this a question a heterosexual bride gets asked or is it just the "lesbian wedding" phenomenon that makes the question pop out first. For the record, I have absolutely no idea what I am wearing, but I may try to get Tina Fey to help me out.

Emily Post is all about moderation and not making a spectacle of oneself. "Nothing could be more inappropriate than the bride and her attendants coming down the aisle of the church made up as though they were in a chorus line in a musical comedy." (361) I guess we'd better leave the queer contingent off the invitation list.

Please keep in mind, in the words of Emily Post, "If you know anyone who is gay, beguiling, and amusing, you will, if you are wise, do everything you can to make [her] prefer your house and your table to any other, for where [she] is, the successful party is also." (38, but I may have changed the pronouns a little) I will expect your dinner invitation to  be engraved on a white card in a proportion of 3 units in height to 4 units in width preferably with your family crest embossed on the invitation. Please see chapter 52 of Etiquette for further details.


I suspect this book will be a great source of entertainment for many years to come and I have no intention of returning it to the cubby in which it was found. I will, however, leave the Atkins diet book in situ.














Post, Emily. Etiquette. New York: Funk & Wagnell's Company, Inc. 1965.

3 comments:

  1. I had never thought if there would be a difference in the questions one would get about an upcoming wedding. Interesting... I think that a, dare I say it, more traditional bride might get asked, "Have you picked out your dress yet?". However, since I'm not particularly fond of all that girly girly stuff, anything about clothes would never occur to me. I would be in the "when and where" category. I didn't realize you are getting married, so, "Congratulations!" It's nice to share your life with that special person.

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  2. trish at tangled threadsJanuary 22, 2012 at 5:22 PM

    I second what Sherri has said. Wonderful news on the relationship front. Congrats to both of you! because of the iffiness of locations for same sex marriage in the US, there question of where is probably just as important as what you are planning to wear. Is Cassie going to be the flower dog?
    Trish

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  3. Vermont in July. Cassy would eat the flowers, but she might be the ring "Bear". :)

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