Category Archives: Latest Queries

Query: Edwardian hat etiquette

Dear EtiKate
In Victorian and Edwardian times, would hats ever been worn in the house by residents or visitors?  Also, did ladies put on their hats in their bedrooms or by the front door?
-Alison via Ask Dear EtiKate

Dear Alison and Readers

Hats and Edwardian etiquette are two of my very favourite topics. “Every hat should serve a purpose,” I once read, and I try to live by this. I am not an authority on Victorian hat etiquette, but since they were the forerunners of the Edwardians, in the interest of brevity, let us accept that the latter followed the rules of the former.

In the Edwardian times, hats would be worn indoors by callers but not by the residents or house guests. A lady would put on a hat when she leaves for town, and will not take it off again until she gets back. I had previously written a piece that briefly touches on this.

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.

I have a book called An Edwardian Season by John S. Goodall; purchased on a whim from a secondhand bookshop in Cambridge. It contains very little prose, but it’s filled with pictures that render everything that’s enchanting of that vanished age. Below is a photo taken from the book; it is a detail from the picture called “Calling”. We can see clearly identify the lady of the manor- she’s the one in green, NOT wearing a hat.


“Calling” from the book An Edwardian Season by John S. Goodall.

Ladies would put on their hats in their room (with the assistance of a maid for those who have one at their employ) and not at the front door. This is because their hair is styled to suit the hat they will wear, and this is done at the dressing table.

Similarly, ladies would go to their rooms to take off their hats. Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary declared, ‘I’m going upstairs to take off my hat,’ thereby excusing herself from a potentially awkward conversation. This was met by looks of understanding; But of course one takes off their hat upstairs,’ I hear you whisper. Perhaps everyone should start wearing hats again, if only to have a suitable excuse to leave dull conversations.

The most “Downton” line ever?

Thank you for getting in touch,

We would be delighted to answer all your etiquette-related questions. Send your queries, worries and dilemmas on our Ask Dear EtiKate section. Alternatively, you can get in touch via Twitter.


Query: Is it really rude to talk about money?

Dear EtiKate
It is often said that ‘It’s rude to talk about money’. Are there exceptions to this?

Photo from LinkedIn

Dear EvH and Readers

It is considered rude to talk about money, and any such conversations outside the walls of a bank are best avoided. Unless it serves a purpose, refrain from discussing money even with family, relatives and your closest circle of friends. Talking about money often leaves people feeling either short-changed or lavish.

Never ask people how much they earn or what their house is worth or how much they paid for something. If for instance,  you like your friend’s crystal vase and would like to get one yourself, the most you should ask them is, ‘Is it expensive?’. But as Nanny would say, ‘If you have to ask, you probably couldn’t afford it’.

money minimum wages

Photo from The Guardian

Some occasions when financial discussions are permitted:
1. In a new relationship and it’s time to book your first mini-break. Money can be an obstruction to romance, but it’s important to know what the other can afford.

2. If you hold on to the vestige of tradition and would like to know your future son-in-law’s net worth and prospects.

3. Talking to the executor of your own will, in case some things have been made unnecessarily complicated.

4. If you are The Wolf of Wall Street, achingly rich and successful, and do not care at all what other people think.

Since I am none of the above exceptions, until next time,

We would be delighted to answer all your etiquette-related questions. Send your queries, worries and dilemmas to our Ask Dear EtiKate section. Alternatively, you can get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.

File:Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy.jpg

Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy by François Lemoyne (1737) from The Wallace Collection

Query: wedding invitations for reception only

Dear EtiKate
I would like to invite a number of guests to my wedding reception only, and not the ceremony itself. Is this okay, and what is the most polite way to write the invitation?


Clip from Beyoncé’s ‘Best Thing I Never Had’

Dear BeATrix and Readers

It’s becoming more popular to invite selected guests to the reception but not to the ceremony. It’s your big day, and you can do whatever pleases you, within reason.

You do not need to give a reason for not including guests at the ceremony. However, if your reason is to keep the ceremony private, (close friends and family only), it’s best to let guests know. You can write the invitation thus (posit that the bride and groom sending the invitation, and not the parents):

Mr Santos and Miss Dawlish are delighted to announce that they will be married at a private ceremony at Duneagle Court. We request the pleasure of your company at the wedding breakfast followed by dancing at The Grand Ballroom on 15th October 2014 at 3 o’clock.

Clip from Beyoncé's Best Thing I Never Had

Clip from Beyoncé’s ‘Best Thing I Never Had’

If there is limited space at the ceremony or at the wedding breakfast, you may wish to invite people to the after party only. You can word your invitation this way:

Mr See and Miss Webb invite you to a cocktail reception in celebration of their marriage
Shell Cottage
7th November 2014, 8 PM

A very formal invitation.

A very formal invitation.

The more formal the occasion, the more formal the invitation and wording should be. Printers have scores of sample invitations to choose from. Do mention what you expect guests to wear to the reception. I have previously written a piece about what to include in an invitation. Remember though, you cannot strictly stop people from going into a church and attending a wedding ceremony, but polite individuals will respect your wishes.

My very best wishes,

Do read my previous post on the Rules of Engagement which is a guide for all things engagement related.

We will be delighted to answer all your etiquette-related questions. Send your queries, worries and dilemmas on our Ask Dear EtiKate section. Alternatively, you can get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.

Query: holding cutlery incorrectly

Dear EtiKate,
I naturally eat with my fork in my right hand. But I was told that if I was to dine at a formal event I would have to eat my cutlery the ‘right way round’. Should I be forced to eat in an unnatural way in polite company?
Many thanks,
Confused Guest

Dear Confused Guest and Readers

The dinner table is set with the fork to the left of the plate and the knife and spoon to the right. The fork, used mainly to hold down or to eat (safely speared) food is secondary to slicing food or spooning scalding soup. As most of us are right handed, this placement makes sense with the dominant hand performing the more complicated tasks.

Formal events have an aura of glamour that make them inherently more special than other gatherings. This distinction we give them makes the whole experience more stressful. However, always be reminded that good manners is simply making sure everyone around you is as comfortable as possible.

This means that other guests should not make you feel uncomfortable. If you are holding your cutlery in a way you are not used to, you might be so nervous about possibly dropping food that you will be hardly able to dazzle the other guests with your clever conversation.

Left handed individuals are not forced to hold their cutlery “properly”. From experience, new acquaintances are unlikely to make such as fuss. I suggest simply picking up the cutlery and switching them around, the way you are accustomed, without drawing attention to yourself.

Children should be taught from a young age how to use their cutlery correctly. I appreciate it can be difficult to change one’s ways later in life. If you still feel inclined, start by practicing “the proper hold” in your every day life, and not just sporadically when formal occasions call.


We will be delighted to answer all your etiquette-related questions. Send your queries, worries and dilemmas on our Dear EtiKate section. Alternatively, you can get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.

Query: writing a formal letter

Dear EtiKate
How do I write a formal letter?
-via Facebook

Dear Readers

Writing a formal letter is relatively straightforward as there is an accepted structure in place.

The letterhead should include your address, e-mail and if appropriate, your telephone.  Never include your name on the letterhead. The letterhead is normally centre aligned, but a right hand alignment is also acceptable. This is a matter of personal choice.

With a few exemptions, such as an audit trail, the date of the letter is normally the day you intend to post it.

It is best to write to an actual known person. This way, you have a better chance of your letter being answered rather than forwarded to different departments.
If really do not know the name of the person to whom you are writing, Dear Sir (or Dear Madam) is the appropriate substitute. Dear Sir or Madam is used if you do not know the name or gender of the person to whom you are writing. Although this should make you examine why you are writing the letter in the first place. I prefer to use a collective or third person greeting in cases such as these, for example, Dear HR Department or Dear Sirs.

Photo credit: The British Council

Photo credit: The British Council

There are only two choices for closing a formal letter: Yours sincerely or Yours faithfully. ‘Kind regards’ or ‘Best wishes’ should be reserved for e-mails or less formal letters. End with ‘Yours sincerely’ when you are writing to a named person. ‘Yours faithfully’ is for when you start a letter with ‘Dear Sir’. A good mnemonic device for this is “to put your faith in the unknown.” So if the person is not known to you, close the letter with ‘Yours faithfully’.

Always make sure you pen the actual signature. Real ink, in blue or black is the traditional medium.

I hope this helps with your formal correspondence.

Yours faithfully,


We are more than happy to answer all your etiquette related questions. Submit your problems, dilemmas or queries in the Dear EtiKate section.

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.

Query: Responding to news of a death

Dear EtiKate
My boss just sent me an e-mail saying, ‘He has to postpone our meeting because he will be attending his father’s funeral.’ How do I convey my condolences when I do not know the deceased?
-Asked in person

Photo credit

Photo credit

Dear Readers

News of a death should be met with sensitivity. In this case, when the bereaved is known to you and not the deceased, simply reply with a succinct ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’
Sign the e-mail ‘With sympathy’.

Refrain from asking for details. It is not necessary to say anything further when you next see the bereaved. Judge the tone of the situation and proceed accordingly.

I shall write a post on how to write a letter of condolence very soon.


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