DEAR MISS MANNERS: I find it very self-centered and not at all mannerly for people to specify that a wedding or other family event be "black tie only." It's akin to inviting guests to an "all white" wedding, where everyone attending is supposed to wear only white, or a medieval-themed wedding where guests are not welcome unless they are in Renaissance attire. (I've heard of such weddings!)
If this were a dinner party or New Year's Eve party, for example, people like me who do not own formal wear could simply decline the invitation. But a wedding or bar mitzvah is a once-in-a-lifetime event -- a time for family and long-time friends to reconnect -- and no one should be made to feel shabby by being told that only black tie is acceptable.
Let the wedding party go to the expense of special dresses and tuxedos. Welcome the guests warmly, dressed as they are in the nicest clothes they own. "Proper" is a matter of attitude and of the heart, not just the apparel, as the gift they bring and the distance they have traveled indicate.
GENTLE READER: You are not the only gentleman Miss Manners has encountered who is under the mistaken impression that the opposite of "formal" is "good-hearted."
It isn't. The opposite of "formal" is "informal."
Both are among the styles currently in use; neither is a masquerade costume nor a gimmick. Asking guests to wear formal dress on a formal occasion is no more unmannerly than telling them to wear jeans on an informal one.
Having snapped at you, Miss Manners will now reassemble her own warm-heartedness to make the case that clothes do not reveal the heart. Snobbery thrives among those fiercely devoted to informality -- examine your attitude toward those who hold traditional weddings -- as much as among those who actually own evening dress.
She very much doubts that your hosts will greet you less warmly if you do not respect their wishes. Weddings do not generally feature bouncers who refuse to admit those whose outfits they feel will not add to the occasion.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: We were mourning the death of our dad. A neighbor brought over a dozen large homemade muffins.
The muffins were instantly devoured, and our brother took back the muffin pan. The neighbor asked if she could do anything else. Our brother said, "You could make more muffins!"
And she did -- bringing them within an hour. We thanked her profusely when she delivered them, and she was also thanked with a note. We gently scolded our brother, and he said, "But she asked."
Was this proper? The rest of us felt greedy (as we gobbled the new muffins).
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners is delighted that you appreciated the muffins, and assures you that the neighbor appreciated knowing this and feeling that she could be of use to you.
It is true that you cannot allow your brother to think that every polite offer may be taken literally. You don't want him asking a clerk who says "May I help you?" to explain his homework to him. But there are enough special circumstances here to excuse all of you.