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Miss Manners: Dress for success at social engagements

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I was visiting friends, I perused my hotel’s list of recommended dining establishments. Each restaurant listed their dress code and, to my consternation, I found each of the following variations:



Coat Preferred

Coat Suggested

Casual Elegance

Dressy Casual

Smart Casual


The last is self-explanatory, but, as a lady concerned with her appearance, if I were to adhere rigorously to the other codes, what in heaven’s name would I wear for each one that would be appropriate, but yet would not enter into the pitiable state of looking over or (perish the thought) underdressed? What would I ask my beau to wear?

GENTLE READER: Wait – are you allowing the word “casual” to pass? Miss Manners loathes it.

She assures you that your confidence that plain “casual” is self-explanatory is misplaced. To some it means blue blazers, to others, gym clothes or few clothes.

But worse than that is the way it is used to brag about not making an effort to fit in with the plans of others. If you hear someone mention being “a casual sort” of person, do not expect ordinary courtesies.

Accordingly, Miss Manners is in sympathy with establishments and private hosts who try to do things nicely, only to have clients or guests who refuse to make the smallest effort of their own. But the proliferation of improvised terms to replace the standard “formal” and “informal” keeps getting sillier.

“Casual elegance”? “Dressy casual”? Oh, please.

You should wear a suit or a dress and ask your beau to wear a suit. Not because any of these instructions make sense, which they do not, but because you would look nice for the ceremony of going out to dinner.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a regular cleaning woman who seems to consider her time in my home to be a social visit. She does not appear to notice that I am eating my breakfast and attempting to read the newspaper, or am engaged in any other private activity, but continues a steady stream of conversation in my direction the entire time she is working.

As my house has an open floor plan, there is nowhere to escape to other than locking myself in the bathroom or leaving the house entirely, neither of which would be my choice for how to spend my morning. Although I’m happy to exchange a few pleasantries with her when she arrives, this is beyond the pale. I should say this does not affect the quality of her work, so I’d prefer to keep her if possible. Is there a polite way to discourage this verbal barrage?

GENTLE READER: In a domestic setting, people do often feel compelled to entertain each other. It is possible that your cleaning lady is starved for conversation, but Miss Manners would not be surprised to hear that she is wondering how to go about her work politely when you seem to be at loose ends, just reading the newspaper.

You could be doing both of you a favor by putting a stop to this, saying firmly, “Well, nice chatting with you. I suppose you want to get to work, and I’m going to concentrate on the newspaper.”

Readers may write to Miss Manners at, or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016.

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