DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband passed away at the end of last year, and I want to know what is the protocol for a female spouse in mourning as far as wearing black or mourning colors. Can you tell me how long I should wear my wedding band, or can I continue to wear it?
GENTLE READER: No, and neither can anyone else.
Yes, Miss Manners knows that etiquette used to be in this in a big way. In high Victorian times, two and a half years in mourning were prescribed for a widow: total black with a dull finish (a satiny surface was considered too exciting) for a year and a day; then black silk and black ribbons, laces and jewelry were allowed; and in the final six months, called half-mourning, one could go wild with touches of mauve or lavender.
As different degrees of mourning were also observed for all sorts of other relatives, you can imagine that the Victorian lady had no desire for Little Black Dresses in her ordinary wardrobe. (Those who present historical dramas do not seem to be able to imagine this, and supposedly festive scenes, in plays, films and opera, are commonly costumed as if the guests' families had all been mowed down.)
Such mourning practices were overthrown, not only because they were unduly cumbersome and depressing, but because of the scope of World War I casualties. But (as usual) it was not long before society went to the opposite extreme, wiping out all forms of mourning until even the funeral is now supposed to be cheerful and upbeat.
But mourning rituals serve a purpose. They comfort the bereaved, in providing a sign of respect for the dead, and they protect them from people who want to explain the stages of grief to them.
It seems to Miss Manners that sensible mourning, in modern times, would be black clothes during the time that you do not want to have people urging you to get over it and behave as before, and then quiet colors until you feel ready to re-enter normal social life.
Whether you ever remove your wedding ring is entirely up to you. The only thing the Victorians had to say on the subject was that it should absolutely be done by the morning of a wedding ceremony with a subsequent gentleman.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a young teenage daughter who is with child, and we have found that strangers will approach her and ask her how old she is, whether she has sought medical attention for her "condition" and how involved the child's father is.
Her response is to be defensive, or attack with vulgarity those questioning her, and I find myself wanting to do the same, though I don't.
GENTLE READER: Indeed, that would confirm the impression that your daughter is -- as the automatic phrase once was -- in trouble, warranting outside interference.
Rather, Miss Manners suggests a sweet smile, along with "Please excuse me, but I'm planning to teach my child not to let strangers get personal with him, so I had better practice that myself."