It’s Okay to Wear White After Labor Day

Personally, I think what colors you wear when is a matter of taste and fashion rather than etiquette, but some people think it’s actually rude, so here we are.

The traditional period for wearing white was Memorial Day through Labor Day (with some municipalities allowing a brief wearing of white for Easter and then packing it away again until Memorial Day.) The reason is is that Memorial Day through Labor Day marks the effective “summer” period. Back in the Victorian era where many of etiquette and social customs were formalized, rich people would leave their houses in the cities and go to the country homes for the summer months. In town, everyone wore very serious, dark, heavy clothes, but in the country they would wear nice, light, white clothing which was more comfortable during hot weather (and remember, there was no A/C back then!) When they returned to the city after Labor Day, they would put their summer clothing away and return to their more formal city clothes. Also, back then, city streets were full of mud and horse poop and garbage and the air was full of coal smoke and soot and all kinds of things that made wearing white extremely impractical. So it just kind of stuck and became codified into this “rule.” Also, as New York was kind of the center of the fashionable world, rules were made to follow the Northeastern climate where it didn’t really start to get hot until Memorial Day and it cooled down quickly after Labor Day.

Nowadays, it’s totally fine to wear white whenever you like, especially if you live in a climate where a sundress is perfectly comfortable in March. The fashion industry even has a thing called “winter white” which is white you can wear in the wintertime. Now of course, you might simply find it more practical and comfortable to put your more summery whites away in the winter, but nothing is stopping you from wearing white linen pants in January if you want.

 

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Is Throwing Your Own Birthday Party Rude?

If people really thought throwing your own birthday was rude, they just wouldn’t come.

So here’s the thing. Technically, according to Miss Manners and other old school etiquette experts, throwing or organizing your own birthday celebration is rude. This is one of those rare areas where I fundamentally disagree (even though I see where they are coming from) and think it is one of those sections of etiquette that are changing due to different social norms.

The reason they consider it to be rude is that there is a traditional expectation that when you are invited to a birthday party, you will bring a birthday present and if you are throwing the party for yourself, then you are actually asking people to bring you gifts, which is not polite. In discussions of adult birthday parties, party poopers also like to bring up that it is all about honoring your ownself and being a bit “me me me,” rather than throwing a party in order to simply entertain guests. Miss Manners, herself, is firmly against adult birthday parties.  The general suggestion is that if a person is to have a birthday party, it must be thrown by a spouse, significant other, or other friend.

However, I find, at least among my social circle, that people are incredibly busy these days and while they might bow out of a “just because” party, most people try to prioritize birthday parties. There is also now the expectation that if you wish to celebrate your birthday, you will organize it in someway (spouses and significant others do often do this instead, but it would almost be weird if a friend said “oh let me throw you a birthday party this year”). Also, in my experience and region, birthday gifts for adults between friends are very rare (except maybe a gag gift?), and so there is no expectation that people will bring gifts. With our wide ranging social circles of friends and colleagues, you are also probably the only one who knows who you would want to invite to celebrate with you. So throwing your own thing is absolutely normal and polite.

There are some things that you can do, though, that will make your birthday party impolite:

  • Expecting birthday gifts, especially by making and distributing a registry. (Also don’t mention gifts anywhere in the invitation! Even to say no gifts).
  • With a dinner at a restaurant, you are going to mostly want to invite very close friends so it doesn’t seem like you are inviting people just so they will chip in for your dinner. If you want to invite a bunch of people, have a party at a bar or throw it at your house.
  • If it is your social circle’s custom to all split the birthday person’s dinner, then don’t argue too much when time comes to pay the check. Just say thank you graciously. That being said, always be prepared to pay your own way and don’t pick a restaurant out of the normal price range of restaurants your crowd frequents.
  • Be careful how you phrase invitations, “please join me for dinner at Bistro” sounds more like you are planning on paying for everyone than “I am celebrating my birthday at Bistro and I would love to see you if you can make it.”

I think what causes so much controversy over this issue is that it is something that really has evolved over the last decade or so. No one bats an eye at a Bride and Groom hosting their own wedding to celebrate their own marriage (which decades ago, was Not Done) and I see adult birthday parties as pretty much the same thing. The phrase “just because everyone does something doesn’t make it right” doesn’t actually apply to social customs. Social customs and etiquette are based on what everyone does, and if everyone starts doing something differently than the way it was done 100 years ago, then it becomes correct.

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have To Do That Anymore: Live at Women’s Hotels

Even Don Draper couldn’t get upstairs at The Barbizon.

Did you know that back in the day, some nice young ladies from good families wanted to come to New York City to work or try to be actresses or models but their parents were afraid for their virtue and their safety? Enter women only residential hotels like the famous Barbizon Hotel for Women.

The Barbizon was built in 1927 at 63rd and Lexington. Right away it became extremely popular for young women trying to make it in the big city. Over the years it housed such luminaries as: Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, Candace Bergen, Ali MacGraw, Cybill Shepard, Rita Hayworth, Liza Minelli, Sylvia Plath (who wrote about the thinly veiled fictional “Amazon Hotel” in The Bell Jar), Lauren Bacall, Betsey Johnson, and “Little Edie” Beale. Part of the appeal was that so many famous women had lived there. It was so popular that in it’s heyday, only about half of all applicants would actually be accepted.

The application process was actually very rigorous, as they only really wanted “nice” girls from “good” families.  You had to submit three letters of recommendation and would be assessed on your looks, dress, and demeanor (meaning did you look nice and have good manners).

Once you were in, you basically got a bright pink nun’s cell. Room were about 9 x 12 feet and outfitted with a single bed, an armless chair, a clothes rack, and a small desk. A very few rooms had a private bath, but most had to share a communal bath down the hall. However, all residents had access to the indoor pool, gymnasium, library, music studio, kitchen, dining room, squash and badminton courts, sundeck, and coffee shop. There was also complimentary afternoon tea every evening (a must for girls on tight budgets!). All this for $12 a week in 1947 and $28 a week in 1963 ($124 and $210 in today’s dollars, respectively). However, there were a lot of rules of conduct that you had to follow:

    • There was a dress code (I haven’t seen this specified anywhere, but one resident referred to always wearing heels and hose)
    • No men above the first floor
    • Parents could be called if you weren’t behaving
    • Parents could also require that their daughters sign in and out in the lobby
    • Liquor was forbidden
    • No electical appliances in bedrooms
    • No cooking in the bedrooms
    • There was no curfew, but the Gibbs Secretarial School did have one for their students who lived at the Barbizon

Presumably there were also a lot of etiquette rules to follow. I would assume that instead of phones in the rooms there were banks of phone booths somewhere, in which case residents wouldn’t want to hog the phone when others needed to use it. The same type of etiquette would go as in any communal living space- being quiet late at night, being quick in the shared showers, and keeping common areas clean. Interestingly, though the Barbizon was most famous for it’s younger residents, there were plenty of older women as well. These ladies were looked down upon by the young girls who felt that still being at the Barbizon after age 25 was a failure. But the older ladies had their own code of etiquette, chatting in their doorways instead of in their rooms and letting long term tenants do their own, eccentric thing. One older lady, in the 1960s, had been living at the Barbizon since the 1930s and was known to play the shared piano every afternoon.

Eventually, the 1960s came to an end and women no longer felt the need to live in such stuffy and cloistered housing. They were more likely to get apartments with roommates, and places like the Barbizon began to fade. In the 1980s, it was converted to a coed hotel, and then was changed and sold a few times, until it’s current iteration as the Barbizon 63, just a normal hotel (although, at least as of 2010, there were still 11 “Barbizon girls” living in the hotel under rent control laws!)

However, a handful of these types of women’s residences still exist such as The Webster Apartments, The Sacred Heart Residence, and the Jeanne D’Arc Residence. For about $1200 a month you get a small room and a variety of amenities (including, at The Webster, breakfast and dinner!). These residences are located in very desirable areas like Midtown and Chelsea, so their prices are actually pretty reasonable. They are usually not for profit organizations that exist to provide semi-temporary housing to students, interns, and women beginning their careers. It’s actually a pretty nice idea when you are just arriving in NYC and don’t really know about the real estate market and how to find a good deal (and you don’t have to commit to furniture and you can leave anytime!). Fortunately for modern women, these residences no longer have the very strict rules that you found at the Barbizon (except for the no men- that’s still very key to their mission statements).

Tell me, do you think you would have liked to live at the Barbizon? Like me, are you sad that you didn’t know that these women’s residences existed when you first moved to the Big City (and these were not just a NYC phenomenon, my mom lived in a similar arrangement in San Francisco in the late 1960s)? Did your mom/aunt/grandma live at the Barbizon and tell you lots of good stories? Let me know in the comments!!

How To Throw A Polite Wedding On The Cheap, Pt. 2

Get all your drinkware at Party City! Plastic is not rude!

Get all your drinkware at Party City! Plastic is not rude! [Via]

Alright, we already discussed that Daily Mail article and some of the crazier ways people are saving money…sometimes by being really rude to their guests. But what can you actually do to save money on your wedding day while ensuring you’re not offending anyone? Here we are to break it down for you! (By the way, there are a lot of amazing guides about how to save money on your wedding in general. We’re just going to focus on parts that deal with etiquette.)

Guest List

Hosting a party means treating guests to anything they may enjoy within the party–meaning if you’re offering it, it should be free. That goes for food, drink, entertainment, knick-knacks, etc. [Uncommon Courtesy is split on the concept of pot-luck weddings. Jaya thinks they’re okay as long as you make it clear and are ready to field questions and concerns, Victoria thinks they’re terrible.] Yes, there are areas where cash bars and things of the sort are more accepted, so YMMV, but really we’re going to take a firm stance on this. Don’t invite 200 people if you can’t provide for 200 people. Don’t invite 5 if you can’t provide for 5 either. This might take some hard negotiating, but sometimes that’s what wedding planning is about.

Food & Drink

Most people think that the only way to have a “proper” wedding is to do a sit-down dinner (and then pass the costs onto your guests if you can’t afford it) but that’s just not true! You can host a brunch reception, or do cake & punch, or passed hors d’oeuvres. You can just do beer and wine instead of a full bar, or do a taco buffet. If you eschew a full sit-down meal, you can also often accommodate more guests. Just make sure that there are actually places to sit for the elderly/easily tired, or surfaces on which to place food. It’s never easy to drink with one hand and balance a plate of appetizers with another.

Timing

This is slightly related to food and drink, because the time of day you have your reception will influence what you serve. It’s generally considered polite to provide a meal if your reception is taking place during an assumed meal time, and since lots of people have receptions that take place from roughly 6-10, that means an actual dinner will need to be served. You do not have to do this, but if you  hold your reception during dinner time, you should make it extremely clear that a full dinner will not be served, and be ready for some people to bail so they can find pizza.

However, if your reception is from 3-6, that frees you up to serve some light snacks and drinks, and many venues will give you a discount for not using the space during “peak” times!

Decor

Similarly to the idea that you need a sit-down dinner, a lot of people assume you need fine china and flatware. Yes, it feels nice, and you don’t want someone trying to cut a steak with a flimsy plastic knife, but there are a lot of great looking plastic/paper utensils out there. As long as everyone has functional enough tools to eat, the rest is just a matter of taste.

Invitations

Etiquette doesn’t care if you have a hand-inked suite with individual, foil-lined envelopes and tissue paper between each page. It used to, but it doesn’t anymore, because we’re all sane people who understand that paper costs money. Instead of an RSVP card, ask your guests to email RSVP. Instead of a separate card telling your guests about accommodations and directions, set up a wedding website and ask them to get the details there. Also, there are plenty of websites that offer gorgeous, customizable invitations without having to pay for a calligrapher.

Favors

Favors are not necessary! I will repeat this until it shines through everyone’s skulls like sunlight through a magnifying glass, condensing on the brain of that one aunt who is nagging you about jordan almonds. The reception is the favor–paying for food and drinks and entertainment for your guests is the thanks you are giving them for bearing witness to your marriage. They do not need to take home a jar of jam or a keychain with your names on it after that, and even Emily Post agrees that it’s not any sort of breach of etiquette not to provide them. Similarly, you don’t have to provide gift bags for guests in from out of town. Unfortunately, I think these customs have become so popular that people assume they will happen, and that you’re a bad host if they don’t. So please, help me in breaking the trend and saving yourself some cash.

Am I A Good Enough House Guest?

Did you make the bed? [Via]

Did you make the bed? [Via]

Dear Uncommon Courtesy, 

Can we go over house-guest etiquette?  Specifically, with respect to how one contributes to groceries, gas, etc, when staying at another’s house? What is the minimum?  Is there a maximum? What other things should a person be doing when they are a house-guest?  Bring a gift, I know, be generally considerate, etc, but basically, how do I be the best house-guest I can be, without breaking my own bank to do so? 

For example, recently my boyfriend and I visited our friends for the long weekend, who live far away.  They picked us up at the airport (they had no choice, there are no busses or taxis where they live). I paid for a rather large grocery bill (contributed to in part by the many cheeses I selected, for I know my friends are cheese-loving).  I then also bought quite a bit of booze, although my boyfriend and I drank quite a bit of it, as we are more dedicated drinkers. We provided probably 5/6 of the wine, beer, and whisky that was drank over the long weekend.  I also brought a small-ish gift and bought another one for them while I was there.. 

Did I do enough? Should I have done more? I paid for a lot of groceries, but we definitely ate other things in our stay. 

This particular stay does not have me overly worried, as they are old dear friends and I have been exorbitantly generous with them many many times, and frankly if I under-delivered this once I am to be forgiven.  But I would like a refresher!  

Sincerely, 

Anxious Guest

OFFICIAL TAKE

Emily Post says that houseguests should bring their own toiletries, offer help around the house, and ask about stripping the bed before leaving. Giving a gift and writing a thank you note after are also “musts.”

OUR TAKE
Jaya: This writer have nothing to worry about, because they have absolutely gone above and beyond with being a house guest.

Victoria: Umm yes, way above. I don’t do any of those things when house guesting. Like, if you spend more money on your hosts than you would on a hotel, what’s the point, really?

Jaya: Have we been shitty house guests the whole time?

Victoria: No we are totally normal guests.

Jaya: I think I’ve done combinations of the following things to thank hosts in my time: paid for groceries, cooked a meal, treated hosts to dinner, brought a bottle of wine/other small gift, paid for gas. Sometimes I’ve offered to do many of those things but the hosts insisted I needn’t worry, so I did none of them, and just thanked them profusely. I’m not sure I’ve ever sent a thank you note for crashing at someone’s house.

Victoria:  I think the standard is to bring a little gift and send a note after, but I honestly can’t remember if I’ve done that. Maybe I am the worst! I know my parents sent flowers to a family I stayed with when I evacuated college for Hurricane Ivan.

Jaya: I think it depends on your relationship with the host. I feel like a lot of formal etiquette treats it as if you’re taking in, like, weary travelers. I’ve always been friends or family with the people I’ve stayed with, so it’s far more casual. For instance, I had a friend move to New York and stay on my couch for a week before his apartment was ready. He bought a lot of his own groceries, but we offered to cook for each other and other things like that, because we’re friends and enjoyed having the other around. It wasn’t this burden.

Victoria: Yes! Usually a guest is someone you know or like having around, so it’s a bit of a treat for the host too?  I mean, you crash with someone because you are in town for something else, I think you have more of a need to thank them. But if they have invited you because they wanted to see you, then you should still do SOMETHING, but you don’t need to be picking up every little tab.

Jaya: Absolutely. Guests should not feel the need to constantly apologize for their presence. Clean up after yourself, offer to do some nice thing for your host, and don’t overstay your welcome, but you don’t have to be hyper-aware of everything you’re doing. There’s no need to break it down so far. No one will notice if you pay for 4/6 of the liquor instead of 5/6, or whatever. Oh but speaking of that, how do you know if you’ve overstayed your welcome? I feel like usually you know exactly how long you’ll be somewhere, so it’s not always an issue.

Victoria: Yeah, you’d usually say “Oh I’m planning on coming for four days.” Otherwise…once you host starts asking how long you think you will there is a good time to plan on leaving within a day.