The Cut Direct: The Fiercest Etiquette Punishment

Go watch Charlie the Unicorn if you never have.

Did you guys know that there is something that you can do when someone is so unspeakably rude that you can no longer bear to be in their presence? It is only to be used in the most dire of etiquette circumstances because it is a very cruel thing to do someone who doesn’t deserve it.¬†You can cut someone (not with a knife!). Basically you completely ignore them to their face. A version of the silent treatment, as it were. If you look straight at someone, especially at their greeting, and do not acknowledge them in any way, then you are cutting them.

The cut direct goes back a long time- it developed during the Regency period (Jane Austen times) and could be much more socially devastating than just one person ignoring another. There were also a lot of rules that went along with it:

  • To be a true cut, the cutter had to be so deliberate and obvious about it that the cuttee could have no doubt about what was happening.
  • A gentleman was never to cut a lady, no matter what she had done.
  • Gentlemen had to be particularly careful about cutting other gentlemen, as the snub could lead to the challenge of a duel.
  • Unmarried ladies were not to cut married ladies.
  • Hosts could not cut their guests (why had they invited them in the first place?)
  • Social leaders had to be very cautious in using it, as their use of it could very well destroy a person socially (if you are completely ostracized¬†from Society, then you ruin all of your marriage prospects and/or your children’s marriage prospects, and since at the time, marriage was a consolidation of wealth and power- then you would have none. Not to mention having no friends and basically no where to go and nothing to do.) Famously, the Prince of Wales cut Beau Brummel publicly and it actually backfired on him because Beau hadn’t really done anything dreadful and everyone felt that the Prince was abusing his power shamefully.

A cut direct must be employed only when someone has done something truly horrible and everyone in your social circle knows it. Otherwise it will make you look petty and cruel.

Important People of Etiquette: Beau Brummel

So back in the day, in the 1700s, (rich) people were all about piling on ALL the fancy clothes. By wearing pounds of expensive stuff like lace, silk, brocade, gold, silver, wigs, hats, high heels (for dudes!), and so forth, you showed you were rich. But then in the 1790’s, along comes this guy named Beau Brummel, who changes men’s fashion radically and whose influence is still felt in those black tie wedding invitations you receive.

Beau was a middle class chap, so he actually couldn’t wear the fancy breeches and coats so popular back then as it would have been above his station. However, his family was fairly well off and he was able to attend Eton and then Oxford before joining a prestigious army regiment led by the Prince of Wales (future George IV). There he became good friends with the Prince and was able to join high society. Instead of the frilly frocks that other gentlemen wore, Beau focused on very simple and elegant clothing. He preferred very tight, light pants tucked into tall black boots, tail coats, and very very white neck cloths or cravat. For nighttime, it was similar but with all black clothing and white linen- the standard for mens evening dress even continuing today. Part of Beau’s schtick was extreme cleanliness. He would take more than two hours to bathe and shave, and then would be particularly fussy about tying his cravat. His fussiness inspired the rhyme about a dandy:

My neckcloth, of course, forms my principal care

For by that we criterions of elegance swear;

And it costs me, each morning, some hours of flurry

To make it appear to be tied in a hurry.

Obviously he was all about the unstudied coolness that takes tons of time and energy to pull off. He even claimed to never eat vegetables and polish his boots with champagne. He was so focused on himself and his image that he had no romantic relationships and even cut ties with his family.

Unfortunately for Beau, all of this elegance couldn’t stand up to even his large fortune. His debts piled up and he had to escape to France. Where more debts piled up and he spent the last years of his life running around trying to avoid them, eventually going slightly mad and dying in prison.