White After Labor Day, Vol. 6, Issue 29

September 3rd, 2007 . by Etiquetteer


Not too long ago Etiquetteer witnessed a particularly unpleasant exchange on an Internet message board. The subject was the long-standing tradition not wearing white after Labor Day, and many participants heaped scorn on this beloved (at least by Etiquetteer) and time-honored tradition, and on anyone who would follow it. Disturbing as that was, Etiquetteer was equally disturbed to see such widespread disagreement about the roots of the tradition and to exactly which articles of clothing it affected. So Etiquetteer decided enough was enough and to get right down to the bottom of it . . . which was easier said than done.

Etiquetteer turned first to his own library of etiquette books:

The Book of Good Manners: A Guide to Polite Usage for All Social Functions by Frederick H. Martens (1923) overlooked it.Kindly Etiquettee for Busy People by Rae Welch (1936) declined to include it.Emily Post’s Etiquette (the 1937 edition) made no reference to it.Today’s Etiquette by Lillian Eichler (1940) maintained silence on it.Esquire Etiquette: A Guide to Business, Sports, and Social Conduct (1953) did not mention it.Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette (1954) failed to discuss it.I Try to Behave Myself by Peg Bracken (1964) completely bypassed it.

Judith Martin, upon whom may the Deity of Your Choice heap many blessings, at last mentions it in her definitive Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (1982). She seconds her approach even more vigorously in Miss Manners’ Guide to the Turn-of-the-Millennium (1990), which Etiquettteer encourages you to read on page 149. And she further clarifies in Miss Manners Rescues Civilization(1996).

Now one would think that if anyone would make a complete 100% declarative statement brooking no dissent it would be Miss Manners. And she does, but only in terms of white shoes . . . and that is frustrating. You may be sure, at least, that she and Etiquetteer agree that the wearing of white shoes is bounded by the holidays Americans use to define summer: Memorial Day and Labor Day.

After that, Etiquetteer was horrified to learn that no less an authority than the Emily Post Institute has declared that the rule no longer applies! (The passage in question is midway down the page.)Etiquetteer can only consider this blasphemy.

But what of the rest of one’s outer wardrobe? In the complete absence of written evidence Etiquetteer has little to go on but the films of Ingmar Bergman (you will recall that everyone wears spotless white during Bergman summers) and the story of Lily Hammersley from Marian Fowler’s wonderful bookIn a Gilded Cage. Mrs. Hammersley, socially treading on thin ice anyway, spent the summers of her first marriage in Newport. There, she ostentatiously sat alone dressed entirely in white on the lawn of her club. No one spoke to her, and she was frequently derided behind her back. A few years later, all the ladies appeared in white outfits unrelieved by any color at all. But by this time Mrs. Hammersley had divorced (!) and moved overseas. At least Etiquetteer thinks that’s how the story went. If you find out otherwise, please let Etiquetteer know.

After all this rooting about, Etiquetteer still feels on shaky ground, but hardly ready to give way. Indeed, Etiquetteer has even offered an opinion in the discussion at Faking Good Breeding, a fashion blog.

So today, Labor Day, Etiquetteer will lovingly lay away his folds of white linen and blue seersucker and carefully tree and bag his white bucks until next Memorial Day, and will prepare to Wag an Admonitory Digit at those who don’t.

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A Gentleman’s Accessories, Vol. 6, Issue 6

February 11th, 2007 . by Etiquetteer


Dear Etiquetteer:

Recently, I decided to use my 1920’s pocket watch. For convenience, I’ve been thinking about using a watch fob. However, are there rules about where the fob hangs from? Also, does the metal of the fob have to match the metal of the watch?

Dear Timely:

A watch fob usually hangs at the other end of the watch chain. If you were wearing your pocket watch on a waistcoat, you’d put the watch in the pocket on one side, loop the chain through a buttonhole in the center, and stick the fob in the other pocket. With a pair of jeans – more common these days, alas – you put the watch in the watch pocket, loop the chain through a belt loop and then clip the chain to the belt loop. That would expose the fob; some might find that too showy.

Believe it or not, Etiquetteer has actually seen photographs of 19th century gentlemen with their watch chains looped through their lapel buttonholes, with their watches in their breast pockets! That fashion, Etiquetteer can safely say, is now as outmoded as spats.

Curiously, none of the etiquette writers of the past laid down any guidelines on whether the fob and chain had to match. Indeed, sometimes fobs were set with precious or semi-precious stones with a seal carved into them; Etiquetteer imagines they were actually used with sealing wax on letters.

The dictum those etiquette writers do lay down, however, is that all of a gentleman’s jewelry be as plain and unostentatious as possible. Remember what that little gnomish woman said in Unzipped: “Fussy, finished!” So as you commence your search for a Perfectly Proper fob, permit Etiquetteer to steer you to some of the better antique stores for assistance. As the late Amy Vanderbilt once said, “Heirlooms are never out of fashion.”

Dear Etiquetteer:

For Christmas I was given some handkerchiefs with my first initial on them. The only problem with that is that I’m a guy. I was always taught that men have their last initials on handkerchiefs. Do I give them back and ask for the correct initial or keep them and have hankies that are wrong?

Dear Initialed:

First of all, no, you may not ask the giver to exchange the gift. Good heavens . . . just use those handkerchiefs anyway! Etiquetteer hopes you aren’t calling so much attention to them that people would notice the initial in the first place.

Marking linens (handkerchiefs, sheets, towels, underwear, etc.) with initials and monograms got started to be sure everyone got their own laundry back from the laundress, not as a status symbol. While it’s Perfectly Proper to have your handkerchiefs marked, it’s bad form to show it off.

Second, you are, in fact, correct about initials. A gentleman’s linen, when not monogrammed with all three initials, is embroidered with only his last initial. Ladies use the first initial.

Dear Etiquetteer: Is there a comfortable way to wear a tie bar? I just got one and I can’t stop wrestling with it during the day.

Dear Fit to be Tied: Etiquetteer considers the tie bar an unnecessary accessory for a gentleman nowadays. It’s actually a little dĂ©classĂ© as far as Etiquetteer is concerned — not quite as bad as dental grills and other gangsta bling, but definitely not for the discriminating gentleman. Please just tuck it gently into your jewelry box and forget all about it.

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