DEAR MISS MANNERS: I thought I understood men's formal wear -- "white tie," "black tie," and so forth. But I was recently at a wedding where the men (apparently) wore formal wear, and I was flummoxed. Please help me.
This was an evening wedding, and I naturally expected that if the gentlemen wore formal wear, it would be what many call a "tuxedo" -- that is, a black suit with satin lapels, a satin stripe down the trouser leg, black bow tie, and either a cummerbund or a vest.
Not so! The male members of the wedding party wore black satin four-in-hand ties (not bow ties) and white vests.
Somehow, I thought this was "morning wear," or a type of morning coat (which I thought involved striped trousers and a gray-and-white striped tie). After 6 p.m., I thought proper etiquette required a bow tie. I was further confused when I checked a few formal-wear Web sites, all of which showed a great variety of jackets, trousers, and ties -- most of which were not bow ties.
Help! I now know what's available, but what is correct?
GENTLE READER: You don't watch the Academy Awards, do you?
Not, heaven forbid, that Miss Manners is suggesting that gala show-business events are the places to find out what is correct, or, for that matter, entertaining. Rather, they would alert you to a peculiar phenomenon that explains the incorrectness you have observed.
In the past few years, these folks seem to have reversed the dictates of clothing that had been in effect since the mid-19th century. And no, this has nothing to do with sartorial decency. Victorian ladies' evening dress was notoriously low-cut, and gentlemen were still wearing form-fitting trousers.
When people got sick of Georgian dandyness, it was tacitly agreed that ladies would be the show horses of fashion and gentlemen would provide sober relief. No longer vying to be outrageous, they hoped to be distinguished by the subtle excellence of their tailoring within strict and inviolable limits of design and color.
You can imagine how that goes over in post-Cary Grant Hollywood. Actors have been making pathetic little attempts to tweak their evening clothes, with results that are neither correct nor pretty. Meanwhile, actresses, tired of provoking merriment at their own taste, have handed themselves over to professional stylists who put them into the uniform of the day. So they will all appear in versions of, for example, the same slip dress with fish tail.
Etiquette is neither inspired nor intimidated by all this nonsense. The rules you recite remain in effect.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: A bone of contention has arisen between my husband and me regarding seating of four couples at an oblong table. I say the host and hostess should sit at the head and foot respectively. My husband contends that seating should alternate male and female. This cannot work with eight people. Please settle this once and for all.
GENTLE READER: Once and for all, there are two legitimate schools of thought on this. The only difficulty arises when members of the opposing schools are married to each other. Miss Manners recommends investing in a round table.