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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Miss Manners 8/8

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband never dresses appropriately for events. When our kids graduated from high school, he wore jeans. Out to a nice dinner with friends: jeans. Anniversary dates – yup, you guessed it: jeans.

They aren’t even nice, dressier jeans, but distressed, dirty and obviously old. The strange thing is that he buys a lot of nice dress clothes, but he never wears them.

I feel so out of place every time I have to take a picture with him on these occasions, because everyone else looks nice and he has on jeans. I’ve even suggested he wear khakis when the dress code is business casual, but he sticks with jeans.

I understand they are comfortable, but I feel embarrassed to be seen with him because he refuses to adhere to the dress code.

GENTLE READER: Like many people, your husband thinks of dressing as something he does purely for himself. There are the “I only dress for comfort” people, of whom he seems to be one, and the “I dress to express myself” people.

This is all well and good, as far as it goes. But clothing also serves as a symbolic system that people use subliminally. Everyone, even he, is reading meaning into how other people dress. Consider: Why do even the most outlandish celebrities dress soberly when they are on trial? Because their expensive lawyers explain that the judge will interpret serious dress as respect for the law, and that juries will feel that someone who defies dress codes might also be capable of defying the law.

You might explain that dressing informally on a formal occasion is interpreted as a lack of respect. For that matter, the reverse is also true: It would be offensive if you showed up at a picnic in a fancy dress, for example.

Miss Manners wishes you luck in getting him to understand. Most people do not admit that they interpret clothing symbolically. “How awful, to judge something so superficial!” they will say. Yet they do it all the same.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was watching a Cary Grant movie the other day called “Talk of the Town,” and one character is a law professor who’s convalescing and writing a book. A woman is taking care of him, I think at her home.

One day, the professor is eating soup. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a soup spoon like the one he used: It was oval, not round, and very big – like a serving spoon or slightly bigger.

In the movie, he is a proper kind of fellow, and the woman taking care of him does things properly, as well. Can you tell me what kind of spoon this was?

GENTLE READER: A soup spoon. They were very large. And Miss Manners prefers that to the idea that Mr. Grant – or was it Mr. Ronald Colman? – picked up the serving spoon by mistake.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,