DEAR MISS MANNERS: My boyfriend and I have been invited to one of his close childhood friend's New Year's Eve wedding. When he asked the bride what I should wear, her response was that the wedding was to be "quite a formal event -- lots of tuxedos and suits" and that I should wear "a cocktail dress," although she would be wearing "a ball gown."
Now, I am not completely clear on the demarcations of black tie, white tie, etc., but I do not think her answer was entirely consistent. What on earth should I wear?
GENTLE READER: Modern weddings are uniformly inconsistent, so to speak. The idea has taken hold that the wedding party must be dressed in at least one degree of formality higher than the guests, and sometimes the bridegroom is yet another degree more formal than his groomsmen.
Traditionally, it was never like that. If a wedding was formal, everyone came equally formally dressed; if it was less formal, or informal, that style applied to everyone present.
The explanation for having different levels of dress at the same wedding has always puzzled Miss Manners. It is so people can tell who is getting married and who isn't, she has been told.
But if they don't know, what are they doing there?
In any event, you are right that this bride is even more confused than most. Her idea of "quite formal" seems to include everything except gym clothes.
The best you can do is to pick one of the styles she mentioned, so that you and your beau don't look as if you happened to run into each other while headed for different events. If he wears evening clothes, you should wear a long dress; if you wear a short but dressy dress, he should wear a dark suit.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: As a final-year veterinary student, whenever someone asks what it is that I do, I invariably get a run-down on every pet they've ever had, their last five trips to the vet (including gripes about how expensive veterinary treatment is), and/or how they themselves were going to go to vet school once upon a time. Not to mention the inevitable hit for free veterinary advice, to which I always answer, "I think you should bring Fluffy to a vet."
The thing is, I foresee that this will only get worse once I'm actually a licensed veterinarian. Is there any way to circumvent this?
I don't fancy performing health checks for free, and while I do love animals, when I'm not at work, I do like having a break from them. Am I being terribly rude to decline checking poor Fluffy's itchy rash if I'm not there on a professional basis?
GENTLE READER: It is not only the free-advice cadging that creates this problem. That you seem to be handling well. The other standard reply, should the speaker persist in demanding your opinion, is "Make an appointment to bring Fluffy into my office, and I'll have a look."
But you still have to deal with the mistaken notion that people go to parties with the hope of being able to talk about their jobs. There may be bores who do, but the rest of us enjoy having time off and getting to know other people.
The flattering way to put this is, "Oh, I won't bore you with that -- I'm off duty and here to enjoy myself. Now tell me about yourself." This is an open-ended question that allows the other person to pick the topic. And let's hope it's not his own shop talk.