Monthly Archives: March 2014

Hat etiquette

The very nice lady running my millinery course told me, ‘When dressing for an occasion, start with the hat’. There might be reason to what she said; after all, it is the first thing God sees when you leave the house.

Photo credit: fashionmaverickblog

Photo credit: fashionmaverickblog

In the olden days, hats were a matter of propriety. To step out naked on top was considered rather indecent. Now they are a matter of personal choice. I love the winter months when I can go out donning a hat and it would seem completely natural. In the summer, even the daintiest trilbies worn in town attract attention. And so it should. In a great hat, cheekbones are accentuated, bad hair is concealed and unfortunate face shapes are corrected.

General hat etiquette
As a rule, you cannot go wrong if you take off your hat once indoors. A gentleman always takes off his hat indoors when in the company of a lady. When in doubt, look around you and follow other people’s lead. Gentlemen must also remove their hats whenever a national anthem is played, even if it is not one’s own. Just think of the podium ceremonies in Formula 1.

Lady Violet hosts Lady Rosamund and Lady Mary for afternoon tea. The guests wear hats. Photo credit

Lady Violet hosts Lady Rosamund and Lady Mary for afternoon tea. The guests wear hats. Photo credit

Traditionally, women are not required to take off their hats when indoors. Any number of Downton Abbey episodes will show the ladies (apart from the hostess, who does not wear a hat in her own home) will keep their hats on all through luncheon and afternoon tea (see picture). That said, if your hat has a very wide brim, they should be removed when dining at a table or in the theatre lest you obstruct someone’s view.

Places of worship
Some places of worship require head coverings for visitors such as in mosques and Sikh temples.
Do your research beforehand and observe these rules. It’s a good idea to pack a large scarf for this purpose when travelling.

Historically, Christian churches required women to wear hats or veils to worship. For that reason, women do not take their hats off in church, e.g. at a wedding. Men are required to take off their hats in churches.

Ladies kept their hats on in Westminster Abbey at the wedding of HRH Prince William and the former Miss Kate Middleton.

Ladies kept their hats on at the wedding of TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

How to take off your hat
The inside of the hat should not be seen.
To take off your hat, hold the brim with both hands and lift from your head. Gentlemen might find it more natural to hold the top, but avoid doing so as this tends to ruin the shape, especially of fedoras. Place your hat on your lap, next to you, or give it to one of the staff for safekeeping. Never place it on the dining table.

Photo credit

Photo credit

Hats at weddings
Mother-of-the-bride hats, as they are known, are ubiquitous at weddings. These are the beautiful, elaborate numbers that cost as much as the dress one’s wearing. Don’t attempt to kiss in a wide-brimmed hat. It is best to wear the hat at a jaunty angle, thus leaving a clear run-up to a cheek (see photo below of Ms Denise Lewis, looking marvellous in her hat).

Olympian Denise Lewis OBE at last year's Royal Ascot

Olympian Denise Lewis OBE at last year’s Royal Ascot Photo credit:

Hats at the races
Royal Ascot is all about fast horses and fancy hats.
This year’s style guide has been released, and as ever, it reflects the pageantry of the event. Hats must be worn. For the ladies, a headpiece with a substantial base (at least 4’’ in diameter) may be worn as an alternative to a hat. Interestingly, fascinators are no longer permitted in the Royal Enclosure. Gentlemen must wear top hats in either black or grey. For the full style guide, visit the Royal Ascot website.

I read from a contentious source that “only the Pope wears a hat after 5 o’clock.” I thought, ‘Well, what does one wear at night?’ The answer dawned on me, tiaras, of course! Should the muses move me, I shall write a post on tiara etiquette.


Query: Sneezing etiquette

Dear EtiKate
What is the etiquette of sneezing?

-via Facebook

Dear EtiKate
Please write about sneeze etiquette.
-Asked in person

Dear Readers

The one thing to remember when a sneeze is on its way is to cover one’s mouth and nose, everything else is just detail. Let me explain. First, to put it delicately, it stops the spraying. And secondly, it automatically stifles the sound. Even the loudest of sneezes would be slightly shushed when covered.

Gone are the times when everyone had a handkerchief with them. Actually, my friend Samuel, a real gentleman, still carries hankies, but I know I no longer do.

I remember my kindergarten days, we would get spot checks for handkerchiefs and the neatness of our nails. As I am writing this, I can recall a boy in my class, Vincent, who always had two hankies, ‘one for him and another in case a lady should need it.’ I never saw him again. I wish we were still friends, because he is a boy after my own heart.

In the absence of handkerchiefs, facial tissues are an appropriate substitute. They are easy enough to carry in one’s pocket or purse without the added inconvenience of laundry. Do offer an ‘excuse me’ when the sneezing fit is over, and you should be greeted with a chorus of ‘bless you’s’.

If you do end up sneezing into your hands, do wash your hands instantly or use a hand sanitiser. (I shan’t get into a discussion on resistant pathogens caused by excessive sterilisation.) Another friend, Will, told me he sneezes onto the crook of his arm, never into his hand (see photo). That way, he is less likely to spread germs. Now Audrey Hepburn from the film My Fair Lady comes to mind. She was taught that a handkerchief is to wipe any part of one’s face that feels moist; and one must not confuse it with one’s sleeves. But in the absence of a hanky, I would opt for the sleeve.

I do feel I have written quite a thorough response to this Dear EtiKate query. I would like to dedicate this post to Samuel, Vincent and Will, who I imagine, never have an awkward sneezing moment.

Bless you,

We will answer all your etiquette related questions. Submit your problems, dilemmas or queries in the Dear EtiKate section.

Glove etiquette

“A lady should not take off her gloves in order to shake hands.”

For more tips on “glove etiquette, read Etikate’s article written for the website Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling.

Photo credit: The Victoria and Albert Museum

Photo credit: The Victoria and Albert Museum

Films featuring etiquette

Aside from my modest collection of etiquette books, I get etiquette inspiration from films. Here I present my top 5 films that feature etiquette lessons.

I am not in the least surprised that many in the list feature makeovers. I’ve always believed that beauty is reflected not only in appearance, but also through genteel behaviour and charm.  

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Pretty Woman
Many might argue this film romanticises prostitution. It is simply a romantic film where a strong female lead and an unfeeling male lead fall in love with one another. She just happened to be an attractive, kindhearted cocotte. Julia Roberts’ character even charms the hotel manager, who coaches her on dinner etiquette (see picture). During the important dinner, she struggles with escargot, and accidentally pings the little snail across the room. She says, ever so coolly, ‘Slippery little suckers.’

Photo credit

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The King’s Speech
This film teaches royal subjects how to address and converse with royalty. Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth explains to a startled Mrs Logue, upon finding The Queen in her home, ‘It’s “Your Majesty” the first time. After that, it’sma’am.” As in “ham,” not “mum” as in “palm.”

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Two con artists try to pass off an amnesiac orphan, Anya as the eponymous long lost Grand Duchess in order to collect a generous reward from the Dowager Empress. As chance only found in fairy tales would have it, Anya is actually the real deal. Etiquette lessons in dining, dancing and comportment is set to catchy songs as can be expected from a 90’s animated film. They sing, ‘Never slurp the stroganoff.’ ‘I never cared for stroganoff!’ ‘She said that like a Romanov.’

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The Princess Diaries
An awkward and timid teen is taught how to be the princess she secretly is by her grandmother, The Queen. Her princess lessons included public speaking, giving the “royal wave” and ballroom dancing. My favourite etiquette scene is when Princess Mia, played by Anne Hathaway, in the middle of a lesson, asks her grandmother if it was ‘customary in Genovia to imprison your dinner guests using Hermés scarves.’

Princess Mia during princes lessons. Photo: veredthepennyjar

Princess Mia during princes lessons. Photo: veredthepennyjar

Photo credit

My Fair Lady
Audrey Hepburn stars as a cockney flower seller who comes to live with the pompous Professor Higgins. His etiquette and elocution lessons were so effective, she passes off as a duchess at Ascot, and even dances with a foreign prince at a ball.
The most memorable line from the film was delivered by Professor Higgins, and has left me still wondering if there is a deeper truth in it: ‘You see, the great secret, Eliza, is not a question of good manners or bad manners, or any particular sort of manners, but having the same manner for all human souls. The question is not whether I treat you rudely, but whether you’ve ever heard me treat anyone else better.

Do you know of other films that feature etiquette tips? Please do leave a comment below.


Army officer bans sandwiches

An army commander has banned the practice of officers and soldiers eating with their hands. The Telegraph writes, ‘Sandwiches have been banned from an officers’ mess after a commander noticed many soldiers were eating them with their hands as he insisted “a gentleman or a lady uses a knife and fork.”’

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Photo credit

In his three-page note addressed to the ‘Chaps’ of Bulford Camp, Major General James Cowan offered a string of etiquette tips that covers not only the “proper” way to eat a sandwich, but also seating arrangements for dinner parties and thank you letters.

A spokesperson for the Army insisted the note was meant to be taken as fun. They said, ‘This note was part of a light-hearted correspondence between a commander and his officers about an expected code of behaviour.’

Below are a few of Maj Gen Cowan’s etiquette tips followed by my own views.

“Quite a few officers in the divisional mess seem to be under the impression that they can eat their food with their hands. The practice of serving rolls and sandwiches in the mess is to stop. A gentleman or lady always uses a knife and fork.”

Cucumber sandwiches. Photo credit

Cucumber sandwiches. Photo credit:

Sandwiches were named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who is said to be fond of this form of food because it allowed him to continue playing cards, while eating, without using a fork, and without getting his cards greasy from eating with his bare hands as the meat was “sandwiched” between two pieces of bread. Others then began to order “the same as Sandwich”.

I still maintain sandwiches should be eaten with one’s hands. Knives and forks should be used only as a last resort. If anyone is still in doubt, just go to any Pret A Manger for proof. For further details, read my previous post on how to eat messy food.

Knife and fork
“The fork always goes in the left hand and the knife in the right. Holding either like a pen is unacceptable, as are stabbing techniques. The knife and fork should remain in the bottom third of the plate and never be laid down in the top half.”

Photo credit:

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I agree completely. To indicate that one has finished with the meal, the knife and fork should be placed together with the handles pointing to 5 o’clock. Placing the cutlery in the bottom of the plate has practical reasons. It allows the server to clear the plate while pinning down the cutlery and thus preventing them from sliding to the floor.

Successful marriage
“I recently went to a Burns night, spoilt only by a curious decision to sit husbands next to wives. The secret of a successful marriage is never to sit next to your spouse at dinner, except when dining alone at home. It displays a marked degree of insecurity.”

Photo credit

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I know someone who believes a dinner party is not a success unless guests have heated arguments during the course of the meal. She would purposefully seat two individuals with drastically different views to guarantee a lively evening.

During the Edwardian times, married couples were expected to sit apart from each other as it is presumed that they would want a break from one another’s company. (Take notice of this the next time you are watching Downton Abbey.) Conversely, betrothed couples are seated next to each other so they can get to know each other while chaperoned. This is rarely the case now, couples are often seated together. To insist upon seating married couples separately can seem old fashioned, since society’s opinion is divided on this matter.   

Ultimately, a seating plan is the responsibility of the host. In formal occasions, seating plans help catering staff identify dietary requirements without having to call attention to the guest. If a seating plan is not provided, guests are free to choose where they sit.

The Armed Forces have a stricter code of conduct and views of social etiquette. I once attended an RAF Officers’ Ball. After the meal, several officers took off their dinner jackets in preparation for dancing. They were then asked to provide the champagne (or whatever choice beverage) for the next ball. As it turned out, officers are not allowed to take off their jackets without approval from the compere. Etiquette is fun, and I am delighted our Army has the same opinion.