How many of you gentlemen are engaged in righteous protests, fueled by outrage that it is your own closest relatives and friends who are pressuring you to betray your principles?
Miss Manners finds it amazing how worked up gentlemen can get when they are asked to dress up. Those simple words, "black tie," make them see red.
Not all of them, of course. Some who see red are willing to don evening clothes if only they can turn the outfit into something more sprightly. So they add red ties and cummerbunds, or pink ones, or, if they stick to black ties, ones that come in funny configurations.
This is a whimsical, although curiously un-amusing, form of protest. Diehards will refuse to wear any semblance of evening clothes, preferring either to defy their hosts or to stay home and sulk.
Miss Manners has never succeeded in finding out what this was really all about -- but not for lack of hearing gentlemen's laments.
The chief complaint is that evening clothes are uncomfortable. Mind you, we are not talking about white tie, with its stiff shirt, waistcoats and tails -- the get-up in which orchestra conductors habitually jump up and down and flail their arms about.
Most formal events now require only the dinner jacket, once the informal alternative to full evening dress. This is cut like any ordinary suit, with which a soft shirt may be worn, so if it is less comfortable than other suits, complaints should be directed at one's tailor, not one's hosts. Especially if they come from people wearing tight jeans.
A distaste for conformity is a big issue to those for whom casual is law. But Miss Manners is afraid that any credibility this argument might have is undermined by those who make it. They have the impertinent habit of hectoring gentlemen who don't conform to their dress code of jeans or khakis and T-shirts, ordering them to take off their jackets and ties.
Another professed objection is based on the antique notion that evening clothes are the costume of comic-strip plutocrats who smoke cigars and hang onto lampposts for balance. Americans used to pity and be amused by countries where the citizens all wore drab work clothes and the leaders were belligerently underdressed for state occasions; now those people have discovered fashion, and we wear drab work clothes and are suspicious of formality.
Miss Manners suspects that what it really signifies is the reluctance of anyone over drinking age to be taken for an adult. While very young gentlemen are dressing like hardened thugs, their elders are trying not to look grown up. (The gentlemen, that is. As pubescent girls affect the jaded hussy look, their elders feel safe in doing so, too.)
This seems a particularly bad bargain. If forfeiting stylistic variety and glamour could purchase eternal youth, Miss Manners (who was born old and marches happily on from there) supposes it might be worthwhile. But it has become just another compensation -- along with precedence and other forms of respect -- that adults have given up, for which they have gotten nothing in return.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a dilemma that I suspect only you can adequately address, given that it involves a lady fainting.
I dressed much too warmly for a Christmas party at the home of my husband's colleague and, in true Victorian style, overheated and fainted dead away. My genial host, along with my husband and two other guests, caught me, carried me to the living room, and revived me most graciously. The gentlemen reviving me were all surgeons and were mildly disappointed that I was experiencing no abdominal distress, but they hid their disappointment as best they could.
The dilemma I am experiencing is that I do not know how to adequately thank my hosts (a married couple with small, darling children) for their kindness. I know that tending to my needs took them away from their other guests and, frankly, I feel awful about it. I try so hard to be a pleasant, low-maintenance guest.
GENTLE READER: Flowers. Normally these are presented to a lady who has brought off a melodramatic dramatic scene, but Miss Manners would consider it a graceful gesture to your hosts who played the supporting roles, as it were.