DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been invited to two weddings two months apart. The grooms are brothers and very close to our family. The dilemma is I will be 5-1/2 months pregnant at the first, and 7-1/2 months pregnant at the second, and these are very formal weddings requiring evening wear. Unfortunately, they don't make a huge selection of formal maternity wear.
My question is twofold: Is it considered taboo for me to wear the same dress to these weddings? Is it OK to wear black to weddings now?
GENTLE READER: The answer is also twofold, but first Miss Manners has to iron out your questions. They are regrettably lumpy because you have folded them wrong.
One part of your query is about symbolism. Black is the traditional color of mourning, so the ban on wearing it on a happy occasion is a taboo -- a taboo that ladies have been breaking right, left and sideways, she might add.
However, the justification for doing so -- that black has long since lost its association with tragedy -- was given the lie in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Suddenly, funerals were taken seriously, and those attending services and memorials for the victims showed up wearing black instead of the sporty and colorful outfits that had become commonplace among people who had apparently saved their black clothes to wear to weddings.
Furthermore, fashion-conscious people started wearing black to balls, openings and other gala events to indicate that even when partying, they maintained a sober recollection of the national peril. It was hard to tell, because the fashion-conscious had been uniformly dressed in black for the previous decade, but they were not shy about pointing out that this black had a serious meaning. Evidently, the symbolism of black has not been forgotten, after all.
The other part of your query has to do with fashion. While fashion constantly demands novelty from ladies, etiquette does not. It does not mind how many times you wear the same dress. And while it disapproves of wearing black (or white or red) to a wedding, it trusts that you have the sense to solve the problem by throwing a colorful shawl over your black dress.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Frequently when my husband and I are dining out or drinking coffee out, people come up and stand and talk as long as 25 minutes, interrupting our meal as well as our talking. What is the appropriate time to say hello and goodbye?
My husband says this is fine; I say it is rude. Some of them we don't even know. Years ago, he was in baseball, way before my time. One man pulled up a chair and sat down. I was enraged. Tell me how to handle this.
GENTLE READER: There are two sets of rules in play here, but Miss Manners is not giving you a choice between them.
One has to do with restaurant visiting. You are quite right that this should be limited to a greeting -- hello and goodbye should not be separated by more than a sentence or two.
People who feel trapped at their tables, sadly watching their food or coffee turning cold, should say pleasantly but firmly, "Excuse us, please, we'll just finish our meal," adding, if the visitors are friends, "and we'll stop by your table on the way out."
The other manners have to do with spouse support. If yours attracts so many fans that eating out with him is a burden to you both, you could refrain from doing so, eat only in places where the management is used to protecting celebrities, or wear paper bags over your heads. However, if what you characterize as frequently is infrequent enough to give your husband pleasure that he is remembered, you should let him enjoy it.