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Gender Etiquette

Dear Didi,

Does a guy still have to hold the door open for a woman? Or is it considered condescending to hold open a door and have to wait for her to walk through? My girlfriend gets very upset when I hold the door open for her but not for the random person behind us.

–L.J., Brooklyn, NY

Dear L.J.,

About gender etiquette. Holding open the door that you've just passed through for the person walking in behind you is not about etiquette gender. It is a matter of courtesy to the next person who, by the way, is headed in the same direction. You do 'the heavy lifting' out of respect whether they are of the male or female persuasion, young or old, or same socioeconomic or ethnic background.


Holding the door open for the person behind you is basic good manners. Opening a car door for someone is a thoughtful gesture -- even romantic.


Do you stand up when a women comes into a room or sits down at a table? Standing is a welcoming gesture.  Do you pull out a woman's chair when you sit down at a table? Certainly if it is a formal occasion, you would. When you're at a pub and the woman you're with goes outside to make a call and comes back to the table, do you stand? Probably not.


Put it this way, whether the person is your same sex or not, standing up and acknowledging someone entering the scene is good manners because you're welcoming that person into the room or to sit at the table. If the person has already been seated once, and comes back to the table, you wouldn't necessarily stand again, unless it was a formal occasion.


Alienating Hygiene

Dear Didi,

What do we do about our older friend with bad hygiene? It isn’t a matter of money, she just doesn’t seem to know that she has chronic bad breath and bad body odor. When we go out for lunch we practically fight over who does not have to sit next to her. Her clothing also needs cleaning. Is there something we can do to help our dear friend improve her hygiene?

–M.N., Cleveland, OH

Dear M.N.,

It is time for the alienating hygiene talk. You had it with friends in high school who refused to wear deodorant or shower. Next time you all get together talk about how to tell a hypothetical someone that they have bad body odor. Be forewarned that she may like the way she smells. Her alienating scent might comfort her -- for some mysterious reason -- if she's insecure, on edge, or depressed about her age, health or emotional stability. So talking about bad body odor in vague terms may not lead to self-awareness, unless of course she guesses that you're all talking about her.

If that doesn't work be more direct. Be honest. Take her aside in private and say, "Please, don't shoot the messenger because I care about you or I wouldn't be telling you this. May I suggest that you find a new dry cleaner and use a stronger clothing detergent, and talk to your doctor about your health and emotional stability.

It might be that meeting with a nutritionist could cure the problem, if you're deficient in certain minerals and vitamins. Because I care about you I want you to be aware that your body odor and chronic bad breath are off the grid offensive." On the other hand, there are those who believe that we do too much to disguise our own body odors. Remember that because our own smells are processed unconsciously, we usually aren't aware of the many ways our body and breath odors affect our social lives.


The Mothers’ Dress Code for Their Sons’ Wedding

Dear Didi,

I have a question regarding mother-of-the-groom attire for a gay wedding, taking place next July. Since there is no mother-of-the-bride to direct protocol, is the proper approach to simply discuss preferences with the other mother, while deferring to the grooms regarding color and formality of the dress? The time and venue of the wedding makes the issue of formality slightly tricky, as the ceremony will be held early in the morning, on a beautiful grassy knoll, near but not on a beach…whereas the brunch that follows will be held in a very high-end hotel. The grooms plan to dress formally in tuxedos. In these circumstances, would it be appropriate to wear a tasteful floor-length gown in a muted color, with a fairly high neckline, elbow-length sleeves and perhaps a matching jacket? Or would that be too formal? I have my heart set on a long gown, but don’t want to break the rules or appear, heaven forbid, too flashy!

Thanks very much for your help.

–Katie, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Dear Katie,

As you say, "the mothers" as they are called, should agree on the dressiness of their outfits. Think of the wedding photos and you'll see why it is in your best interest to have you both dressed in the same length and style of dress, but not necessarily in the exact same color. Although, you both could wear different shades of the same color, such as Turquoise for one and French Blue for the other; or one wears Light French Beige and the other Ecru. A morning wedding ceremony followed by a formal brunch, no matter how formally dressed the wedding couple, does not call for the wedding party and the guests to be donned in formal attire. Only if the other mother wishes to do so, too, would you wear a full-length dress. Then again you would agree about the design, style and color. In other words, you would not want to be brazenly more fashionable or dressier than your son's mother-in-law. My best suggestion for both of you mothers is to go with a more modern and sophisticated look. That's why I'm recommending that you both wear an exquisitely made special occasion jacket, in either a silk or linen, with either a solid colored skirt or slacks. Look for an outfit that you will be able to wear for decades to come. Without knowing your builds or lifestyles, the taller you are the longer the jacket. This is a dressy summer look extremely popular in resorts such as Palm Beach, Charleston, Newport, RI, Palm Springs, and Nantucket, which would be more appropriate for Vancouver Island than a full-length gown. To illustrate the look I'm recommending, I use Maria Pucci's website gramercy-atelier.com where you would click on 'Mother of the Bride' to view these popular favorites and much more.








The Fur Coat

Dear Didi,

At this time of year, women start to bring out their fur coats, ready for winter wearing. Younger women are usually wearing popular faux-furs, yet, women over 50 still have the real things and love to take them out! I have a colleague who chooses not to store hers professionally, but rather has a cedar closet and – gulp – mothballs. All very well and good – but give her a hug at a social event and she reminds you immediately of hugging your great grandmother. That waft of mothballs is offensive — but it is also “aging”- so, other than professional storage what can you suggest?

–Mothballed, RI

Dear Mothballed,

The first thing your friend needs to remember is that she should never let snow or rain water dry on her fur coat because it could create mildew. She should always dry off the coat as quickly as possible by shaking off the water and patting or brushing off excess moisture, but to never rub the fur or use an actual brush. To expel existing odors, your friend should hang her coat in a vinyl garment coat bag and place fresh coffee grounds in the bottom of the bag. The coffee grinds will absorb the odor when the bag is tightly zipped closed. It may take a few days for the odor to be fully eliminated, but stirring the coffee grinds every so often should quicken the process. After a couple of days, she can hang the coat outside to air out the smell of coffee before safely storing it in her closet. However, never store a fur coat in a plastic bag and when she needs to brush the fur, she should run her fingers through the fur instead of using a real brush. images-37 Ideally, as you undoubtedly know, to keep a fur coat looking healthy and prolong a youthful appearance, fur coats should be stored in a cool place; cleaning should be cared out by a professional furrier; cold storage is advised for expensive fur. On the internet when you Google 'how to clean a fur coat,' you'll find suggestion for putting the fur coat in a tumble clothes dryer with pumice or walnut shells, but then you'll need to use a glazing solution to restore the sheen.




Table Manners Faux Pas — Hands

Dear Didi,

Is it acceptable table manners to keep the hand you are not eating with on the table to the side of your plate or rest your wrist on the edge of the dining table?

–F.M., Boston

Dear F.M.,

Table manners for knowing how to drink soup at a dinner table is a wonderful way to illustrate the dos and don'ts of what to do with your idle hands during a meal. Never leave your hand idle on the dining table. Always rest the hand you are not using on your lap out of sight. Whether one is using both hands or one depends on the size and/or shape of the vessel in which the soup is being served. For instance a cup of soup on a saucer can slip or slide, so you would stabilize the cup with your idle hand. Gently hold the handle when the soup cup has handles, while utilizing a smallish round soup spoon (no larger than two and three-quarters in diameter). When soup is presented in a soup plate, you would keep the hand you are not using in your lap until you're two-thirds finished spooning out the soup with a medium size oval shaped spoon (with a bowl at least two and two-thirds inches long). Tipping the long side of the spoon closest to you sideways gently pour the soup into your mouth. Think of a capsizing canoe. Only at that point, does the idle hand in your lap appear on the table to hold the side of the soup plate as you gently tip the rim of the soup plate closest to you away from you while spooning out the remains of the soup. Never lean into the soup cup or soup plate. Always lift the spoon up to your mouth. Your erect body core supports this and neither the hand nor the wrist on the table is used for core support. Never leave an idle hand on the table because it is apt to fidget. A fidgeter distracts the conversation. You can always tell a person with good manners by where their hands are at all times.


Good table manners are largely about good posture. Having both hands forward in front of you the spine bends towards the soup. Good tables manners are also about eating quietly taking care not to make motions or noises that distract the conversation. One's fingers are more apt to fidget and tap or tear at the napkin when the hands are on the table. Now, when courses are no longer being served and most of the flatware, china, and glasses have been removed from the table, all but the coffee or demitasse cups, the setting becomes more relaxed and first the hands, followed by the arms and then the elbows appear on the table as the conversationalists lean in to catch every word that is being said.


Most Annoying Social Media

Dear Didi,

Some people have too much time on their hands sitting in traffic or behind a desk, or watching TV, so they resort to fidgeting with social media to wile away the hours. Checking for updates to see who liked and shared their (and their ‘friends’) latest posts and who attended which party, and in which swell pub or restaurant they are imbibing and dining. As much as I love family and friends, enough is enough. How can I avoid being that annoying person who whittles away time addicted to social media? I’m just as guilty as they are.

–S.S., Los Angeles

Dear S.S.,

About cutting back on annoying social media. You can pull back by blocking the more irritating sharers and editing back on a couple of your own annoying topics. A recent U.K. study highlighted the most annoying social media topics. The most egregious, unsurprisingly, are posts on diet and exercise, promoting the latest miracle shake -- Shakeology -- or bragging about their conquest in the marathon. Let whoever shot the photo of you at the finish line post the share. Then there are the meal and recipe sharers, who have discovered the quickest way to peel the skin off of an avocado or to make pastries in the shape of roses. Along with the signature dish at the latest name-drop restaurant that happens to have just arrived as your dinner. Send those food clips only to your foodie friends.


Gaming invitations seem to be on the wane until the next batch of virtual gambling descends upon us, but the baby photos are full force out of control. Not just the parents, but the grandparents and friends of friends are cooing and ooh-ing. Maybe don't go public with those shares. Send them to Family + Close Friends. Likewise with the selfies, you really don't want your work colleagues knowing that you enjoy pole dancing on girls' night out.


On the other hand, those who share too much about themselves need our empathy. How do we 'Like' the fact that their dog died? It's confusing. If you Like the post that their dog died, what exactly do you like? The feeling that you're supporting your friend in their grief? Does that really translate as sharing in their mourning process? Send a card. Yes, we love watching an occasional video of a mother elephant and her calf frolicking, but not more than once a day. Event spammers, tweet your event date only a couple of times, because too many reminders may encourage us not to go. They are in the same class as self-promoters. Can anyone be more annoying?



Email Etiquette Update

Dear Didi,

My employees don’t know how to send a decent email. Not just to me, but their emails to clients are often, brisk, rude, sloppy and either too friendly or cold, or too long and wordy. I would like to send an email around to the staff with guidelines as to how to write a decent email. What are the dos and don’t for an email?

–E.M., Providence, RI

Dear E.M.,

If need be, you can forward this answer to your employees as a staff memo. Subject: Email Guide for All Employees If you're taking the time to write an email, you want to make it easy for a busy person to read and respond in a timely fashion. Brevity and personalizing are key to catching the recipient's attention. Always make use of the subject line: A quick tax tip (or question); Lunch October 12th?; Here's the info you asked for. After opening a long email, how often do you Save it to read later? You then forget about it. Right? To avoid having your email deleted or forgotten, put yourself in the recipient's shoes and assist him or her in assessing -- at a glance -- if your email is: 1. spam, 2. too time consuming, and 3. a matter of interest to them: What does he want from me? What can this person (you) do for me? To hold their attention, make it a Me-mail about him or her and not only about you, by using a subject line about them: You'll like this proposal or Info for your vacation. In other words, make the first glance a helpful hint to what comes next. Then use a personalized salutation, such as Dear George, or Dear Mr. Magoo, and you've made them feel special by respectfully addressing them by name -- and don't address anyone as "Hey dude." In business, never use a greeting or opening line such as Hi or Hey, as in "Hey, what do you think of this business plan?" Instead, use his name and write, George, this plan can work for you. The only time you wouldn't need a greeting is when the email is to a good friend or relative with whom you communicate frequently. They know you by your email address and you're dialoguing about Thanksgiving plans or a movie you're going to see. But still give them the heads up in the subject line to peak their interest or to assure them that your message is brief: Quick tax question or What time is lunch today? Lead with an introduction. Even if you've met the person once or twice, introduce yourself. "We met at lunch with David Crawford two weeks ago. You were looking for someone to restore your house and I'd like to set up an appointment." Throw out a date and time and he'll come back with the best day for him. Include a link to your website where he can see houses you recently restored. Whether the goal of the email is simply to make contact, ask a favor, or to give a persuasive sales pitch, write brief, focused emails in short sentences within short paragraphs. You don't want their interest to wane, because brevity is always more persuasive. Instead of including an infographic and/or image within the text, be efficient and provide a link they can download and look at later. In closing, ask for a response by a certain time or date: Can you let me know by the end of the day  (as long as today isn't a Monday or Friday) or Before we can go forward with our plan, we'll need a reply by October 1st. You can follow up once, because they may have missed your first email, but a second follow-up can be annoying. Encourage the recipient to respond immediately by adding a request for confirmation, as in Please, confirm your current contact, is a polite way of pushing for an immediate reply. Most importantly, before pressing Send, proofread your email for spelling and grammar and edit out any redundancy by asking yourself: Am I being a repetitive bore? How can I make this e-mail shorter -- a quicker read? And yet have even more intent focus?  Also, don't forget to monitor your tone. Does your email reflect a bit too much your grouchy mood, Monday morning blues, or Friday afternoon ebullience? Always use a respectful closing: Kind regards, Kindest regards, Most sincerely, Cheers (for friends), or even Let's keep in touch. Instead of cc-ing or blind copying your email, your message will look special -- and not as though it is part of a mass emailing -- if, after sending it to the recipient, you forward it to others from your Sent box. Beneath your closing, include your full name, title, company, address, phone number, website and email address, but hold back on the social media buttons, logos and never use emoticons, because many of us think they're silly and/or unprofessional.



Wedding Etiquette + Coworkers

Dear Didi,

About wedding etiquette + coworkers, what do you do when one of your coworkers has a big wedding and doesn’t invite all of her closely-knit team?

The bride told me in February that I would be seated at a table with my coworkers at her September wedding, but the S-T-D and invitation never arrived for four of us. By the time the wedding came around, I was too disappointed to ask her “Where’s the invitation that you said would be forthcoming?”

It is a small hair salon with sixteen women stylists and beauticians and four of us were not invited. It was particularly awkward because our boss, who did her hair for the wedding and attended it as well, hosted a bridal shower for her in the salon after hours and invited all fifteen of us for champagne and cupcakes.

Some of us have been working in the salon for over twenty years and when there is a birthday, pregnancy, or wedding to celebrate, we all chip in and buy something significant from her registry as a joint birthday or shower present. That way we know we are giving her something she really needs and wants.

Not only that but working side-by-side on our feet for long hours, while sharing information, products and equipment, we overheard the details of her wedding and often ventured an opinion when the bride asked for one.

By the time the wedding invitations went out, we had all bought our coworker a wedding present. Sadly, four of us were disappointed that we weren’t invited to her wedding. It was hurtful. Luckily, I like the gift I bought her and am happy to keep it for myself.

However, that doesn’t solve the problem of what happens when she comes back from her three-week Hawaiian honeymoon. Everyone will want to talk about her wedding — everyone but the four of us who weren’t invited.

The fact that we weren’t invited will be the elephant in the room. Giving her our gifts would be guilt-tripping her and none of us wants to do that.

On the other hand, it would clear the air if we knew why we weren’t invited, or she apologized for not inviting everyone. Do we pretend we don’t care and aren’t hurt because we were excluded?

–E.H., Providence

Dear E.H.,

The problem is that you were led to assume that you would be invited to her wedding. You believed you were on the guest list and would receive an invitation. From the very start, the bride should have made it clear to all of you that she was having a small family wedding. That would be the clue that not everyone in the salon was being invited. Understandably, over the course of hearing for months about the wedding preparations, her coworkers became somewhat emotionally invested in the wedding. Why wouldn't they when they were being asked for their opinions and being feted at a workplace bridal shower? 78050712 Look at it this way. It may have been seemed to her more polite not to invite four out of sixteen of her coworkers than not to invite only one or two. You all should keep the present you bought or return it. When it comes to welcoming the glowingly tanned bride back to work, do so with a quick smile, and move on. Compliment her tan, ask about her honeymoon, but not about the wedding. Of course, you can be sure that she will be dying to talk about her wedding with her posse, but let's hope she will be too embarrassed to do so. 2AEB788600000578-3178126-Feeling_great_Look_and_feel_your_best_on_your_wedding_day_by_sta-a-5_1438552245051 If she shoves wedding photos in your face, be polite, but don't comment beyond saying something like, "Nice hairdo." Which you'll have to say, because your boss did her hair for the wedding. weddinghairstylesthumb


What to Say When You Don’t Like A Gift

Dear Didi,

What to say when you don’t like a gift? It seems like a waste to accept an expensive gift you really don’t want and will never wear or use, because you don’t want to hurt the gift giver’s feelings. Is there a polite way to ask for something else instead when there is no gift receipt nor sign of where it was bought in order to exchange it?

Quite frankly, I would rather give the gift back than keep it and have to write a thank-you note for something I don’t want. Nobody likes feeling indebted to someone for accepting something they don’t like.

–N.E., Cos Cob, CT

Dear N.E.,

When there isn't a gift return receipt nor way to identify where the gift came from on the packaging, tag, or label, you are stuck. Make room in your recycling gift drawer in the hope of finding a happier home for it. Unless of course you decide to sell it on eBay. Complaining, or as some would say being honest, about a present that someone has given you -- unless it is broken or doesn't work or fit --  sounds ungrateful. Neglecting to control your impulse to complain is simply bad manners. In a situation such as this it is hard to be both honest and nice. It is better not to say anything rather than hurt the person's feelings. They may have spent a lot of time thinking about the perfect gift for you, as well as spending more money than they had anticipated. In order to sustain your relationship with the giver, you should not complain about the gift, unless of course it arrived damaged or was the wrong size. But in that case you would know where it was bought or shipped from and be able to rectify the problem on your own. Think of it this way. If someone took you out for lunch to celebrate your birthday and you didn't like the restaurant or the food, you wouldn't complain. Why? Because the person is treating you. They organized the lunch in order to spend time with you. You wouldn't whine about not liking the food and expect your host to take you to another restaurant to make up for his unfortunate choice. You know what they say about gifts? It is the thought that counts. If you never wear nor utilize the gift when you're with the giver and it is not on display in your house for him to see, he'll get the hint that the gift was not to your taste. On the receiver side, if there is no evidence of where the gift came from, the giver of the gift should tell the recipient where they can exchange the gift -- if it is possible to exchange the gift. When not given that information the giftee assumes the present is not exchangeable. Asking the giver to take back the gift because you can't use it -- for instance if it is a toaster oven and you have a brand new one -- is one thing, but if the present appears to have sentimental value -- such as an out-of-print coffee table book, beaded necklace or deco broach and you know the gifter can't take it back (for whatever reason), don't ask. Yes, it is hypocritical that we teach small children to pretend that they like their present by expressing a cheerful thank you -- when they don't like it. That politeness is to protect the gift giver from hurt feelings for disappointing a child.


What to Do with Your Evening Bag

Dear Didi,

This may seem like a silly question, but I never know what to do with my evening bag when I go out at night?

Since I have to take my car key, house key, driver’s license, and often a credit card — and most certainly a lipgloss and cellphone — I have to carry them all in a bag that cannot be left in my car, or at a high cocktail table or on a chair while I mingle or dance. I’m not a fan of the feedbag pouch at night. Nor am I ever a fan of the knapsack or across-the-chest shoulder bag, the fanny pack or the bum bag when I’m dressed up. So, I end up carrying a clutch or envelope in my hand — both of which can be tucked under my arm. However, I really don’t like standing around with a drink in one hand while clutching an envelope bag in my armpit, because I have to be shaking hands or air kissing with my right hand.

What would you suggest?

–Amelia, Manhattan

Dear Amelia,

About the convenience of the evening bag, and the fear of losing one's identity and keys when out and about on the town at night. What did women do at night when they carried a cigarette case, cigarette lighter, lipstick, compact, and keys? As fashionable as the envelope and clutch may look when walking into a room with it clutched in one's hand by one's side, it looks perfectly awful held in the armpit. Yes, there is no doubt about it, they're awkward after the grand entrance. At a restaurant the clutch and envelope are relatively safe when seated with it resting on your lap or tucked behind your back between the back of the seat at the dinner table, or when it is discreetly (if it is quite small and elegant) placed on the table beside your fork. Seated in a banquette, you wouldn't have to place your bag on the floor, because it is nestled beside you. To illustrate the kind of evening bag that doubles, because of the chain, as a shoulder bag, here are our fav examples. These small evening bags are not to be worn on the back or across the chest, but dangled securely straight from the inside of the shoulder down to your waist. article-2466812-18D57C4B00000578-340_634x796 2746AA2900000578-3025803-Her_classic_Chanel_designer_bag_retails_between_4_900_and_6_000-m-55_1428175522914 8048bf27429208225012a7343776f743 images-24 new-arrival-women-evening-bags-2015-stripe -2015-Fashion-Famous-Designers-Quilted-Double-Flaps-Lambskin-CC-Shoulder-Bags-Brand-Channelled-Bag-Handbags


Family Funerals

Dear Didi,

My daughter-in-law and I are fairly close. Should I go to her mother’s funeral even though I never met her?

–Melinda, Illinois

Dear Melinda,

About family funerals and whether to attend or not when you never met the deceased. You would attend the funeral of your daughter-in-law's mother in support of your son's wife and the extended family you share. Understandably, a daughter has a hard time when her mother dies, no matter how difficult the relationship may or may not have been. Sadly, the most arduous mother-daughter relationships may be the hardest deaths to deal with because of deeply rooted unresolved issues. Suggest specific things that you could do to help your daughter-in-law through this difficult time -- such as offering to help with the preparations for the service or reception, or by keeping track of the condolence flowers and cards; providing a dinner one night for your son's family; helping to pack up and vacate the deceased's house or apartment and dispersing and/or disposing of her mother's worldly goods. These are a few of the many ways your welcomed assistance will be useful while your daughter-in-law struggles to accept her loss. On the other hand, your daughter-in-law could shut you out and not want any help at this time, but don't take it personally. For the moment she may be withdrawing from family and friends in an effort to pull herself together. Give her all the time she needs to make the huge adjustment of losing a parent. We all go through the mourning process in our own way and in our own time. It may be that your daughter-in-law will need your friendship most weeks or months from now when the funeral is but a sad memory. Her mother's death is a bitter loss. 15funeral_sharp-2 If your son and daughter-in-law have children, their children -- your grandchildren -- will find comfort in knowing that their father's mother is alive, well, and presently on the scene. Your presence would be greatly appreciated. Grandmothers are memory makers. Even if they are not part of the child's daily routine, they come to the rescue when her family needs her moral support. 697497821e4a4f6bbaa5cf2e2f413522_t1070_ha2ef2ee0118c1bbc55320aa7b9bcc611796c0567


Undocumented Worker

Dear Didi,

What is the polite way to refer to an undocumented worker? Someone who is living in this country illegally, because they don’t have working papers?

–B.D., Providence

Dear B.D.,

An 'undocumented worker' is a gentler way to describe an 'illegal immigrant.' Whatever you do, don't describe a persona as an 'illegal immigrant.' Or 'illegal' anything. The word 'immigrants' is as passe as 'wetbacks.' The kindest and therefore the most polite expression is to say, "undocumented workers."


Newport Informal Summer Wedding

Dear Didi,

We’re going to a two o’clock wedding ceremony in Newport, RI, Labor Day Weekend, with cocktails beginning at five and a dinner reception starting at six o’clock at the Eisenhower House. Should I change into a dressier dress for the reception?

–K. C.

Dear K. C.,

About dress code for a Newport informal summer wedding Labor Day Weekend. You have two hours on your own between the conclusion of the ceremony and the start of the reception, which would give you plenty of time to return to your hotel room and change into a gorgeous knee-length cocktail dress. On the other hand, if there is no dress code on the invitation that suggests Black Time, Formal Attire, or Cocktail Attire, you could wear a hat with a simple cocktail dress to the church ceremony. And then leave your hat in the hotel room (or car if you go sightseeing instead) adding dangling earrings, dressier shoes and an evening bag to your outfit before setting off to the reception. When the invitation does not specify a dress code, you can assume the attire is Suits & Dresses.  When in doubt, to get a feel for an informal wedding, such as one at the Eisenhower House, google EisenhowerHouse.com and click on 'Weddings.' Here above left is a photo of guests assembled on the steps of the Eisenhower House in the afternoon; below is where the evening reception will take place under a tent with fantastic views of Narragansett Bay. Your question is about whether to change into a dressier dress for the reception. If I were you, I would. To illustrate the kind of dress and accessories, for women over forty-five, I use the Halsbrook.com website. samanthasung-racheldressindeepblackmondriancheck-1440196972-look Again, as you can see by the above left photo of assembled guests, some of the men have taken off their jackets and quite a few are wearing dress khaki trousers. The only women wearing long dresses appear to be the bride and her maid-of-honor, so only the immediate wedding party are formally attired, whereas the guests are dressed in a more relaxed fashion. You would be safe wearing a cocktail dress similar to the black and white polka dot dress above at Halsbrook.com. Unknown-5 15-Tent_evening  


Conversation Etiquette

Dear Didi,

When I’m at a dinner — no matter how formal or informal — and find myself stuck between a man on my right and a man on my left, whom are talking past me in a bloody streak leaving me totally out, what should I do? I’ve tried asking questions, but they usually blow me off and go on talking between themselves while I’m caught as the monkey in the middle.

I never know how to correct the situation gracefully and become part of the conversation. They don’t seem to be aware of the fact that they should be bringing me into the discussion — not leaving me out. I understand that everyone has a right to an agenda, but do agendas really belong in social situations?

–Alice in Wonderland, New York, New York

Dear Alice in Wonderland,

About conversation étiquette. The good host places guests with similar interests, or something in common, together at the same table. For instance, if you are single, one or the other of your seatmates, if not both, should be single; or one or the other also attended college in Oregon; while one or the other works in risk management -- or also spends summer weekends on Fire Island. You were meant to fit in -- and actively add to the conversation -- which is why you were seated next to the person on your right and the person on your left. You merely have to listen patiently for the cue to the common thread in order to jump in with confidence. There are exceptions to the personalized seating when the luncheon or dinner is, say, a corporate event or charity benefit where guests are seated alphabetically. Meaning the first letter of the last name of most of the people at your table will be the same as yours. Mr. Corbett, Ms. Cowley, and Mr. Corbin are seated one after the other, probably male-female-male-female whenever possible. As a guest, your job is to be self-sustaining, standing your ground in any conversation even if you only ask questions or show interest in learning about what they're discussing. Meet the challenge. Listen carefully for a clue to piecing together the puzzle. It could be as obvious as an accent. "You must be from Boston." Interesting vocabulary. "That's one of my favorite words, and yet I never hear it used." And then there is the subject you know about, or wish to learn more about. Finally, albeit less tactfully, there is the host's agenda-ridden objective of seating two of you together, which makes it more than likely that one of you may end up the odd person out. Especially when a sales pitch is involved. The time to diffuse is when there is a lull in the conversation. Chime in -- ask a question -- preferably one that bridges the gap from what they've been yapping about to a topic of interest to you. Once you try bridging and see how gracefully it can work, you'll bridge with ease. Basically, conversational bridging is aiming for a topic and smoothly segueing into that topic -- away from the discussion at hand. An example might be: the conversation segued from business to business luncheons to food. Most of us enjoy talking about food, sharing food news and locations of hot new restaurants. On my way to an event inevitably I'll think up one or two questions I want to ask other guests, usually for my own amusement, but it is also a way of bringing up subjects I wish to learn about. As you guessed, it takes a certain amount of skill, concentration, and patience to get out of your own world and into that of your seatmates to your left and right. Being on top of the latest news at home and abroad is not only useful but de rigueur to know. There are websites such as TheSkimm.com that send daily email updates at no charge. TheSkimm happens to be written by seasoned media news writers for women by women, so when getting cold feet before your next dinner party, skim the current daily news from TheSkimm. Then there is the obvious, finding out ahead of time who your host is seating you with and googling them. When that's not an option, before leaving the party in frustration and going home early, check out your seatmates' names on your cellphone in the restroom -- after memorizing their place cards or name tags -- and go back to the table with fresh ideas. I asked a great conversationalist what she would do in a situation such as yours and she said she would rudely interrupt her seatmates to say, "You two are having such a wonderful time, why don't I switch places with one of you?" article-1223702-042FBE210000044D-870_468x382