Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Son's Girlfriend Refuses to Wear a Bra

DEAR HARRIETTE: My 20-year-old son has a 19-year-old girlfriend who is well-endowed and rarely wears a bra. She also wears low-cut clothing and often looks like she's about to fall out. The dress she was wearing the other night was so small on her that she could barely zip it up all the way, and a nipple was close to making an appearance. When she walked in the door, she looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and said, "I know this is a low-cut dress," as if she knew what my expectations are, but came looking like that anyway.

My son's girlfriend is going on vacation with us in three weeks. I don't want to seem prudish, but I do want to get through to her that this type of dress isn't appropriate for the places we'll be going and the people we'll be seeing. I'll be asking her before we leave if she has bras in her suitcase, and I am ready to leave her behind if she doesn't or make her go out and buy a few.

What else do I do? I don't want to alienate her, but how do I help her to understand that something that is fine when you're out clubbing is not fine when you're trying to make a good impression with your boyfriend's family? -- Appropriate Clothing, Atlanta

DEAR APPROPRIATE CLOTHING: At the very least, you can establish the rules of your home, which should also be the rules of traveling with you. Your situation reminds me of childhood. My father had many rules, including wardrobe guidelines, that everyone had to follow. Once, a boy with cornrows in his hair came to visit my sister. This occurred way before this style was a trend, and more as a way of setting an afro (making it an at-home style, in my father’s eyes). My dad told him to go home and do his hair before coming inside our house. He required all of us to dress up for Sunday dinner, which meant a dress for girls and a shirt, tie and jacket for boys. Strict? Yes. But we had to follow the rules.

Similarly, you can take this young woman aside and share your expectations about personal presentation. Tell her that you think her style of dress is too provocative and is unacceptable in your home. Be sure to tell your son how you feel and what you intend to say so that it comes as no surprise. You absolutely can put your foot down on this. Hopefully your son will recognize that your family values do matter.

Formerly Contentious Sister Now Acting Kind

DEAR HARRIETTE: Over the years, I have had a contentious relationship with my sister. Whenever we talk on the phone, I expect to have some friction or for her to belittle me in some way. So I always have my guard up when we begin to talk.

For the past few months, ever since the family got together for our mom’s birthday, she has been nice. I’m not quite sure how to react to it. There have been no barbs or mean comments. Do you think we have actually turned a corner? Part of me is afraid to relax. I don’t want to get my feelings hurt again. -- Turing Point, Los Angeles

DEAR TURNING POINT: Claim the positive. You are strong enough to let your guard down and see what happens. Assume that your sister sees the value in being kind to you -- finally. If she slips and shows her mean streak from time to time, point it out. Tell her you like the “new” her much better. Ask her to stay nice.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)