DEAR MISS MANNERS: It is with considerable sadness that I have observed a distressing proliferation of representations of purported ladies drinking champagne while wearing gloves.
This activity, for example, occurs throughout the first act of a recent production of an Oscar Wilde play and is depicted in a telecast series about a prominent political dynasty.
I would be vastly grateful if you could address this issue, perhaps doing something to rescue the reputation of the historical ladies depicted.
Assuring viewers that this is merely a lapse perpetrated by contemporary designers and not a subtle indication that the women are parvenues would be comforting to those of us to whom these things still matter. I believe that only an authority of your stature stands a chance of halting this distressing trend.
GENTLE READER: Ah, so it is not just Miss Manners who notices these gaffs.
It seems that every historical drama, whether in the theater, the opera, on film or on television, features:
-- Ladies eating and drinking while wearing gloves.
-- Gentlemen keeping on their hats indoors and in the presence of ladies.
-- Both ladies and gentlemen neatly folding their handkerchiefs after use.
These and other gaucheries have long been forbidden -- as was once known, not just in what passed as "society," but at all economic levels. Unlike today, everyone actually had gloves, hats and handkerchiefs.
Surely those who dramatize the past could do a bit of research. The toniest productions obviously research the costumes, but not how people wore them, and the settings, but not how people behaved in them.
In a previous existence as a drama and film critic, Miss Manners was plagued by false cues -- such as slouching posture, male-first introductions, failure to rise for others, an immediate use of first names -- that indicated poor character or disrespect when such was not the intention of the drama.
But, as you have found, she was not able to enlighten those who -- perhaps believing that human behavior is "natural," and therefore was never different from the most casual modern behavior -- continue to undermine their efforts to re-create the past.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When at a restaurant, should it be proper etiquette to excuse yourself from the table when your young child is throwing a temper tantrum or just sit there and hope that the child will stop?
GENTLE READER: Really? You are in doubt about this?
Miss Manners hopes that you are a disgruntled restaurant patron seeking support for your annoyance at having your dinner spoiled, and not a parent who believes that it would be rude to interrupt the child's tantrum by showing some consideration for everyone else.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: The question has arisen in our home as to what constitutes a "maiden name." My husband was filling out a form that asked for my maiden name.
I was born with one name, which was changed legally to another. Then I married for the first time, which ended in divorce. Married a second time, also ending in divorce. Married a third time, which eventually made me a widow. Now I am married for the fourth (and last, I hope) time.
GENTLE READER: Your confusion as to when you were a maiden is, under the circumstances, understandable. Preferring not to probe further, Miss Manners would consider it the surname you used before your first marriage.