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Formal dress now a matter of choice

Fri., Jan. 4, 2013

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I attended an exclusive dinner that was clearly identified on the highly sought-after invitation as “white tie.” Although the men in attendance were all clad according to the formality requirements – white tie and tails, not tuxes – several women actually arrived in short cocktail dresses, and one was even in a short cocktail-type suit.

I won’t even talk about the women who wore dress pants! To make matters worse, some of the women members of the organization hosting the dinner were among those in short cocktail dresses.

Although the organization threatens to turn improperly dressed men away at the door, there has been no such threat for women offenders. But I have to wonder, is their fashion faux pas not as bad? Am I hopelessly mired in the past to believe that “white tie” remains the most formal of the formal events and, as such, demands long dresses, not short – and certainly not pants – for women?

GENTLE READER: You do have a point, even one with which Miss Manners agrees. But you would be wise not to press it.

Since the 19th century, it has been thought that the proper sartorial division between the genders is that the gentlemen should be dressed conventionally, distinguished only by the perfection of their tailoring, while ladies should indulge in fanciful variety.

You don’t need Miss Manners to tell you that there have been revolts in both ranks. There are gentlemen who insist on dolling up their evening clothes with strange vests, perky ties, peeking non-handkerchiefs and such. And ladies who seek a standard evening uniform of little black dresses or trousers.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; to her email, dearmissmanners; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.


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