Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Wrong Suit

The Wrong Trousers Etiquette Mistakes Pop Mech Nov 1922
Ad for etiquette book, Popular Mechanics, Nov. 1922

The saga of the man who ate his olives with a fork continues - and it is not a happy story, children. He is wearing formal evening dress. But this is an informal dinner! He knew this from the invitation, but he did not know what informal means.Please remember to consult your etiquette books before a similar tragedy befalls you.

This is what one of my vintage etiquette books* has to say:

Formal evening dress is for weddings, the opera, "ceremonious dinners or balls" or any Very Formal Occasion. It consists of "tails" - a swallowtail jacket, a waistcoat, white bow tie and a top hat. Black silk socks, black shoes, black or dark blue overcoat. White silk muffler. And if you do speak softly and "carry a stick" it should be "without ornamentation." So please leave your gold-encrusted scepters at home, gentlemen.

Informal dress is for restaurants and going to the theater, and dining "at home" - this means a tuxedo a/k/a the dinner jacket. Waistcoat optional (black or white), black bow tie, black shoes and socks, top hat optional. If only the guy in the picture had worn a black bow tie!

Note that the other guy, who is really happy and chatting away, is only wearing a business suit. How about that? Is that OK? Where is his tuxedo? Well, my sources* say that a business suit is appropriate for "all informal occasions" during the day. So he is wrong, too! Maybe the take-away message here is that if you act happy and confident you can get away with the Wrong Suit. But I don't think the etiquette books of the 1920s want you to know that.

And anyway - as for the hapless olive-chomper, maybe this IS informal to him. Maybe he wears black tie around the house all the time. Maybe when he's lounging on the sofa reading the funnies and listening to Terry and the Pirates on the radio, and eating potato chips (with a fork) - this is what he wears! Formal dinners are when he breaks out the Robes of State and the Imperial Crown. He didn't know!

*The New Book of Etiquette by Lillian Eichler (first published in 1924; this is the 1947 edition, pp 349-50).

1 comment:

vanilla said...

Some of us were correctly born into a different societal stratum.

But someone has to cart away the wine bottles.