With each passing decade, a handful of well-intentioned, but old-fashioned etiquette rules unceremoniously bite the dust. Seriously, when's the last time you questioned whether or not it's appropriate for an unmarried woman to have dinner unchaperoned in a man's apartment, lest she be "ruined" in the eyes of other potential suitors? Social conventions and the rules that govern them are often forced to roll with the times, whether we want them to or not.
Don't get me wrong — while certain etiquette standards have blessedly come and gone, I'm definitely not advocating for everyone to run wild. If anything, our times call for updated etiquette recommendations, starting with annoying smartphone habits (just try playing Words With Friends at my dinner table). The experts at The Emily Post Institute modernize the term "etiquette" to be less about chaperones and dinner fork placement and more about relationships. "To us, it means treating people with consideration, respect and honesty," the Post team explains. "It means being aware of how our actions affect those around us."
Some of the outmoded etiquette conventions we're about to cover have been rightfully scrapped. Others could certainly do with a comeback. Here are 10 etiquette rules no one follows any more — but maybe some should.
Does e-mail have anything to do with the rapid decline in thank-you note sending? If I go to the trouble of selecting, wrapping, paying for and shipping a gift or check, the least the recipient can do is let me know he or she got it, via a short note of appreciation and the modest price of postage. "It's a lost art that parents teach their children to do hand-written thank-you notes," says Jill Kirchoff, of Kennesaw, Georgia. "Children have an entitled attitude these days, and an electronic thank-you is a lazy thank-you. Show some respect and appreciation for someone's kindness and thoughtfulness!"
Writing up a quick note of thanks is so easy and meaningful. Hallmark recommends the note be sent within one month of receiving the gift, and suggests including details about how you plan to use the item or money, in addition to sincere expressions of gratitude. Thirty or so words will likely gain you eternal favor among the manner-minded gift-givers of the world — and perhaps ensure you get another gift from them on your next birthday. But failure to dash off that note will probably land you a spot on their eternal "Do Not Gift" list. The choice is yours, my friends.
More than a decade has passed since my wonderful wedding and I still fight back the urge to invoice the dozen or so no-shows for the significant chunk of change their thoughtlessness cost us (none of them had a good excuse, in case you're wondering whether they got a flat tire or landed a date with Brad Pitt). Save for writing about it in this article, I chose long ago to take the high road on this breach of manners.
Sadly, failure to RSVP is one of the most rampant etiquette issues that brides and other party-planners face today. "I plan events professionally all over the country, and it baffles me the number of people who RSVP that they'll attend, then just flat out not show up," says Jenny Dell, an event planner in the higher education field. She's hardly alone in this sentiment. "It's just a simple courtesy," explains Wendy Kiessel of Acworth, Georgia. "Even if it's just so a birthday-party-mom knows how many pizzas to order!"
Manners expert Maralee McKee insists that guests should RSVP yes or no to a shindig within 24 hours of being invited. If they are unsure whether they can attend, they should still let the host know they got the invitation within 24 hours and mention there might be a date conflict. Guests should definitely not wait until after the RSVP date to reply, potentially causing the hostess to follow up with them. She's got enough on her plate.
Ever heard that you shouldn't wear white before Easter or after Labor Day? Although it may seem like it has something to do with keeping cooler in the summer, no one knows for sure where this fashion dictate originated. In any case, many people have long since waved off this practice, with designing icon Coco Chanel eschewing the "no white" rule as early as the 1920s [source: Fitzpatrick].
Another rule related to white was that second-time brides shouldn't go down the aisle in a white gown and veil. Although white has long been associated with virginity, its fashion origins are actually more about celebration, say the experts at The Knot. What better reason to celebrate than a second (or third!) shot at love? All brides should feel beautiful on their big day, whether it be in a gown of white, cream or hot pink. However, the veil should still be worn only at a first wedding, particularly the kind that covers your face [source: Guth].
Another fashion faux pas was wearing bright colors after a certain age. "My great-grandmother used to say that only little girls and ladies of the evening wear red shoes," recounts Courtney Hood of Smyrna, Georgia. "She would be horrified if she looked in my closet."
I love my yoga pants as much as the next gal, but occasionally I find myself yearning for the days when people really cared about how they looked in public. Church just isn't the same when you're standing one pew behind someone with gaping holes in their saggy jeans, and don't even get me started on adults wearing pajamas in public. It's not. That hard. To put. On pants.
Men and women used to don suits and dresses to fly the friendly skies, but they also didn't have to go through the extensive parking, transportation and security hassles that we endure nowadays. So I say, dress for comfort when traveling and save the etiquette lessons for more pressing matters, like not hogging the armrests. Unless you're trying to get a free upgrade to first class.
The shift to casual dress, while welcome in everyday life, seems to be bleeding over into fancier events where more people are ignoring formal and semiformal dress guidelines. "I go to a lot of formal events, and this is a huge pet peeve of mine," says Staci-Jill Burnley of Alexandria, Virginia. "Nothing looks tackier than a man in dress uniform or tux with a woman in a cocktail dress." A fancy enough event will indicate semiformal (knee-length cocktail dress) or formal (long or floor-length gown). If you don't have the appropriate attire on hand, hit the mall or go shopping in a friend's closet. You really don't want to draw Staci-Jill's ire. Trust me.
Discussion of money and all things related used to be a faux pas of Rockefeller-sized proportions. In the olden days no one would be tacky enough to assign a figure to their net worth or disclose the cost of their new Rolls Royce. Today, people barely bat an eye when discussing salary and lifestyle, often showcasing their good fortune on social media for all their friends to see and covet. Equally off-putting are the folks who feel quite free to ask you how much you paid for your home or your car.
It is one thing to be proud of your accomplishments, and quite another to brag, particularly when it's to people who might be having a tough time financially. The experts over at The Emily Post Institute encourage manner-minded people to revert back to the days when dollar signs were rarely discussed, certainly not in envy-inducing specifics. Even when asked outright about income, there are easy enough ways to dance around the topic, with the canned Post response being, "I make enough to get by" [source: Bradford]. And if someone asks you about the price of your house, make a joke ("We paid more than we liked!") or just be honest ("I'm sorry, I'm not really comfortable discussing that") [source: Massa]. A rude question doesn't deserve a straight answer.
I don't know when the phrase "fashionably late" became popular and regularly practiced, but it has taken off with abandon. In fact, if you're prone to promptness like me, chances are you'll be the only person at any given party for at least a half-hour after the indicated start time. That's because arriving extremely late has become the standard. In stark contrast, most etiquette experts agree that the window of fashionable tardiness is a mere five to 15 minutes [sources: Martin, Emily Post]. The train seems to have left the station on this etiquette infraction, with no signs of turning back. Since it makes my eye twitch to be late, I'll enjoy the small crowd and extra finger food while everyone else trickles in slowly.
The only time a late arrival may be acceptable is when it's a cultural norm among your family, friends or social group. If that's the case, then an on-time arrival might mean catching the hostess running frantically in her underwear to take something out of the oven.
Although chivalry is typically associated with men, make no mistake — women can be courteous in many of the same ways. In fact, most ladies no longer expect to be treated with kid gloves as was common in decades past. We fought long and hard to be respected as strong, intelligent and self-sufficient people! As a youngish, able-bodied woman, I have absolutely no problem opening my own doors, carrying heavy boxes and pulling out my own chair. If someone offers to assist, I won't turn them down, but it's usually a pleasant surprise. My issue with today's lack of assistance etiquette has more to do with failure to help people who really need it.
"When I lived in New York City I constantly saw young, healthy men and women on the subway who were so rude or engrossed in their phones or books that they let the obviously pregnant, handicapped, injured and elderly passengers stand while they comfortably commuted," says Monique Johnson, who currently resides in Washington D.C., and has called out many a passenger for failing to give up a seat for someone who really needs it. "It's easy enough to get your head out of the clouds and not be a jerk."
Think about it this way: Doing someone else a solid by simply giving up your seat, holding the elevator or spotting them a dollar can change the trajectory of their day for the positive, all at very little effort to you. Plus, you might need the favor returned one day.
Mimosas, cake and teeny-tiny outfits – what's not to love about baby showers? With having and raising kids becoming more expensive than ever, most parents-to-be appreciate the spoils a shower has to offer. In the past, the party could only be thrown by someone unrelated to the expectant couple, because a shower given by a family member would imply that the couple was pandering for gifts [source: BabyCenter].
In the early days of baby showers it might not have been obvious or mandatory to bring a present for the wee one, but let's be real here: Today, no one would dare show up empty-handed to a shower, so does it really matter who purchases the punch and sends out the invitations?
Another emerging trend that some people find irksome is multiple showers for subsequent babies. I completely understand where these people are coming from. Showers are time-consuming and gifts are pricey, so unless you have limitless funds it can seem like overkill to gift the same mother three or four times. On the other hand, my third boy is no less special than my first, and I once read somewhere that every baby deserves to be celebrated.
One way to strike a balance for subsequent pregnancies is to opt for a more low-key shindig. Skip the custom invitations, fondant cake and 50-person guest list for an intimate lunch with your nearest and dearest because they're probably going to be the ones involved in your child's life, anyway!
When someone I love calls or visits to say "Happy Birthday" I get a completely different vibe than when the same person sends a text bearing the sentiment. No matter how many cutesy emoticons you include, it's simply impossible to convey the same joy over electronics that personal contact achieves so easily.
Today, texting and social media have all but replaced birthday cards and other types of personal contact on special occasions. Although some might maintain that these avenues allow us to keep in touch with more people at once, others point out that such interactions are superficial in nature and rude to fall back on. "Too many people take the lazy route on birthdays, holidays and other special occasions," says Desiree J. "Not being on social media forces me to really connect with people on a regular basis, rather than resorting to some canned wall post."
Etiquette experts are rolling with the times to fold tech advancements in with birthday and special occasion etiquette. Acquaintances or old friends you primarily connect with via Facebook can get by with merely a wall post, but folks you text regularly warrant a minimum of a text or phone call. The extra-special people in your life, like siblings, significant others and close family should be acknowledged in person whenever possible, or by phone, Skype or other personal avenue [source: Marcowicz].
Sometimes, if you want something done right (or even done at all), you have to do it yourself. It's becoming extremely common for people to throw their own birthday, housewarming, engagement and other parties, sometimes because they just enjoy playing the host, but often because no one else offers to do it for them!
Although considered fairly tacky in the past, some etiquette experts can handle the trend of self-celebration, as long as it's done with style. For example, inviting guests to a birthday party where they have to provide or pay for food, drinks and the implied gift is placing the burden squarely on their shoulders, despite the fact that you planned the soiree. By contrast, hosting a party with all the trimmings on a date that just happens to be on or near your birthday relieves the attendees from responsibility [source: Miss Manners]. There's no sense in moping around, wishing for a fete you're physically and financially capable of throwing yourself, so do it up right and toast yourself quietly for bucking a pretty benign tradition!
HowStuffWorks talks with transgender experts to find out ways to be more inclusive of gender when speaking and how to use gender-neutral pronouns.
Author's Note: 10 Etiquette Rules Nobody Follows Anymore
Modern etiquette is really all about opening your eyes and being cognizant of other people's needs and feelings. I doubt I make it through every day without committing some faux pas, but I try and that has to count for something!
More Great Links
- BabyCenter. "Baby Shower Planning and Etiquette." 2015 (May 28, 2015) http://www.babycenter.com/0_baby-shower-planning-and-etiquette_1642.bc?showAll=true
- Bradford, Stacey. "Money and Manners: Are You Offensive?" CBS News. Sept. 10, 2010 (May 28, 2015) http://www.cbsnews.com/news/money-and-manners-are-you-offensive/
- Burnley, Staci-Jill. Interview via e-mail. May 25, 2015.
- Dell, Jenny. Interview via e-mail. May 25, 2015.
- Desiree J. Interview via e-mail. May 28, 2015.
- Dubin, Julie Weingarden. "Second Wedding, Second Chance." Bridal Guide. 2015 (May 27, 2015) http://www.bridalguide.com/planning/etiquette/roles-responsibilities/second-wedding-second-chance
- Dyas, Brie. "7 Things People Dressed Up For In Our Grandparents' Day." Huffington Post. Jan. 25, 2014 (May 27, 2015) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brie-dyas/7-things-people-used-to-dress-up-for_b_4318520.html
- Emily Post. "Party Etiquette Tips for Hosts and Guests." 2015 (May 28, 2015) http://www.emilypost.com/social-life/hosts-and-guests/466-party-etiquette-tips-for-hosts-and-guests
- Emily Post. "Welcome from the Posts!" 2015 (May 26, 2015) http://www.emilypost.com/
- Field, Jeanne. "On a personal note: thank you." Hallmark. 2015 (May 26, 2015) http://www.hallmark.com/thank-you/ideas/how-to-write-a-thank-you-note/
- Fitzpatrick, Laura. "Why We Can't Wear White After Labor Day." Time. Sept. 8, 2009 (May 27, 2015) http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1920684,00.html
- Guth, Tracy. "Remarriage: 2nd, 3rd, or 4th Wedding FAQ." The Knot. 2015 (May 27, 2015) https://www.theknot.com/content/getting-remarried-faq
- Hood, Courtney. Interview via e-mail. May 25, 2015.
- Johnson, Monique. Interview via e-mail. May 26, 2015.
- Kiessel, Wendy. Interview via e-mail. May 25, 2015.
- Kirchoff, Jill. Interview via e-mail. May 25, 2015.
- Marcowicz, Karol. "6 Rules for 'Happy Birthday' Etiquette in the Age of Facebook." Time. March 23, 2015 (May 28, 2015) http://time.com/3751376/happy-birthday-wishes-facebook-twitter-etiquette/
- Martin, Judith. "There is no such thing as being 'fashionably late.'" Reading Eagle. Aug. 31, 2003 (May 28, 2015) https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1955&dat=20030830&id=nwIiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=CKMFAAAAIBAJ&pg=2816,9369468&hl=en
- McKee, Maralee. "RSVP Etiquette for Guests and Hosts: The Newest Manners for This Fading Art." Manners Mentor. 2015 (May 26, 2015) http://www.mannersmentor.com/social-situations/the-number-one-etiquette-violation-are-you-guilty-too
- Miss Manners. "If you throw your own party, keep your guests in mind." The Washington Post. March 17, 2013 (May 28, 2015) http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/miss-manners-if-you-throw-your-own-party-keep-your-guests-in-mind/2013/03/05/f44ee0f8-82a4-11e2-8074-b26a871b165a_story.html
- Pennacchia, Robyn. "9 extremely outdated etiquette tips from the 1950s." Death and Taxes. April 22, 2013 (May 26, 2015) http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/197370/9-extremely-outdated-etiquette-tips-from-the-1950s/