DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband is a member of an Inn of Court in London (a requirement, I ?understand, for barristers practicing in the United Kingdom). His Inn is having a garden ?party in July, and all spouses are invited.
What does one wear to a garden ?party? I vaguely remember that British garden parties have specific ?expectations with regards to ladies' dresses -- the words "pastel" and "suit" ?come to mind, as does "no flat shoes" and possibly a hat.
My husband, who was raised in a part of England where garden parties never ?entered the picture, gave me the very helpful "It'll probably be a bit of a meat market."
GENTLE READER: "Possibly a hat?"
Miss Manners will not go so far as to declare that hats are the whole point of a garden party. Flowers are nice, too, and so are strawberries and tiny sandwiches. But hats are certainly one of the garden party's chief glories.
The idea is to look like the garden, although not in the way that is effortlessly achieved if you do the actual gardening. Rather it means large hats laden with flowers, bows and such above dresses or dressmaker suits in pastel colors or floral prints.
Dramatic hats have a practical function as well. They distract attention from looking down, where a sensible lady wears sensible shoes, knowing that more fetching high-heeled ones will betray her by immediately sinking into the turf and pinning her there, far from the strawberries.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When is an invitation not an invitation? If our friends say drop by our beach house anytime, do we take that as an invitation and just go? Or if someone says let's go to the movies sometime, is that considered an invitation?
GENTLE READER: These are what we might call pre-invitations. Miss Manners would not advise banging on the beach house door some evening, screaming "Come out for a midnight swim!" or complaining, "I waited at the movie theater and you never showed up." But you have been invited to prompt an invitation ("We were thinking that next weekend might be a good time for the beach -- are you free then?") or to suggest one ("Would you be interested in going to a movie this Friday?").
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I work for a multinational company. I frequently contact strangers who work for branches of our company in other countries via e-mail, seeking information for various projects. Since we haven't been formally introduced, should I use Mr./Ms., or should I use their first names, as is the custom in my office and other branches I have visited?
GENTLE READER: Don't you think that strangers in foreign countries have enough troubles with calls that confuse the time zones, without making them struggle to recall who is being so familiar with them?
Miss Manners has often wondered why it is so hard to understand that people who want you to call them by their first names will say so, while people who hate this coming from strangers are unfortunately reluctant to say so.