June 12, 2009 in Features

Miss Manners: Dress color custom not meant strictly

Judith Martin
 

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m pleased to note how consideration for others seems to be the guiding principle of manners as you promote them, but one rule of etiquette has puzzled me for a lifetime: the prohibition of wearing white or linen between Labor Day and Easter.

This rule assumes September is always nippy and Easter is always mild, when the reverse can often be true in the United States. The rule seems even more arbitrary when one lives in the subtropics, where February days routinely top 80 degrees. Would you please shed some light on how we might understand this rule?

GENTLE READER: Consideration for others is something you have kindly shown Miss Manners. When this rule is questioned, it is usually with a barrage of sarcasm and disdain rarely leveled on far more restrictive rules.

Miss Manners is aware of the glamour of rebellion, but could there possibly be a more tepid cause?

The source is a misunderstanding that you share with the ferocious rebels. It is true that consideration for others is a guiding principle of manners, but that is not its only function. It is also a repository of folk customs that are indeed arbitrary, but that folks like to practice anyway. Or, as Miss Manners has learned, hate to.

This one has to do with seasons, not with weather. Easter is a time for bringing out pastel colors and, for those few who care to, straw hats. Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer, when white seems refreshing. However, there is no wardrobe police to enforce this, which makes Miss Manners wonder what all the excitement is about.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I moved back to a state where I had previously resided, while my wife and daughter stayed behind to sell the house. I am now maintaining two residences on one salary, which, as you can imagine, is a strain financially.

My friends here are wonderful and invite me to do many things, including activities that involve at least moderate expense. I simply cannot afford to do these things. My friends, conscious of the situation, always pay.

My protestations, my offers to pay at least part of the cost, my polite declining of invitations, are all waved away with love and compassion. I adore them all for their kindness and generosity, but I am starting to feel subsidized, and don’t want to be a mooch, especially since I love them so much.

I have offered dinner to them all upon the reunion of my family, but what else can I do to avoid being a financial leech and still spend time with these marvelous people? They refuse my refusals, knowing the reason behind them.

GENTLE READER: Money is not the only commodity that friends can provide for one another, and not even the most valuable one, handy as it may be. You could be doing other sorts of favors for your kind friends.

Now you are probably going to ask Miss Manners what favors. People are always asking her what presents to give to their dearest friends whom she has never laid eyes on.

Think of something helpful you can offer without its seeming like payment: “I’ll pick everyone up so we don’t all have to look for parking,” or “I’m doing my lawn this weekend and I’d be happy to do yours – it’s how I get my exercise,” or “You don’t need a carpenter to fix that – woodworking is my hobby.”

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@unitedmedia.com, or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., Fourth Floor, New York, NY 10016, or (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.


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