DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was at a party for a financial business, where everyone was dressed up and having cocktails and hors d'oeuvres before a sit-down dinner and dancing. A woman stood nearby for several minutes with her back to me. When she turned and we caught each other's eyes, I told her I had been admiring her dress and that it was a very interesting print.
She responded, "Thank you, it's a (something Italian)."
I've heard of this type of response to a compliment before, but always thought it was some kind of joke -- perhaps making fun of certain types of people, like the Housewives of Wherever. I was totally unprepared for her comment, and just grunted in response. My first thought was to ask if she had gotten it at a thrift store, but I wisely kept that to myself.
I guess I don't run in the right circles, so can you enlighten me as to the proper reaction? Or was her statement a natural response to my comment on the print? What do I say next time besides "Oh"?
GENTLE READER: "Oh" is fine. What shocks Miss Manners is that you were unaware of the widespread habit of flaunting brand names.
And it's not just the rich. The manufacturers of those brands often sell small, less-expensive -- if still overpriced -- products featuring their name so that the non-wealthy can participate in this peculiar practice.
In addition, the appearance of "influencers" has planted the idea that admiration is connected with the desire to imitate; therefore, supplying you with specific information would be considered useful. As you stated an interest in the dress, this might have been the wearer's assumption. But that doesn't mean you need to continue such conversations.