Category Archives: Fashion and beauty

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.


Remembrance Sunday, poppies and how to wear brooches

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation at the Tower of London

November is truly upon us. Tomorrow is (already!) Bonfire Night. During my university days in Scotland, we would spend the night on West Sands Beach, drinking soups from flasks, and always with toffee apples. November is also known for being “Poppy Month”, when we wear poppies to commemorate those who have died in conflict. This year marks 100 years since the start of the First World War. Remembrance Sunday, 9th of November will be all the more poignant. In this post, we present the etiquette of wearing poppies and brooches. When to wear a poppy The Royal British Legion, the nation’s custodian of Remembrance, recommends wearing one from the launch of their appeal at the end of October until Armistice Day, 11 November.

Photo from The Guardian

How to wear your poppy This is a hotly debated topic. Some people say wear it close to the heart, on the left side of your body. Others say that men should wear theirs on the left and women on the right. There is also a school of thought that says the poppy stem should be pointing down, and never worn at an angle. Again, I echo the advice The Royal British Legion: there is no right or wrong side “other than to wear it with pride”.

A proud poppy

Brooches and corsages Traditionally, women wear brooches on the right and men wear badges on their left. I find this is no longer observed. I find that because women’s hats and fascinators are designed to be worn to the right, a brooch worn on the left achieves a balanced, put-together look. (More on this hat etiquette later). What I have noticed is that flower corsages are still worn a certain way, at weddings for instance. Married women would tend to wear them with the flower pointing down (see photo below). While the opposite is true for single ladies, they would wear it with the flowers pointing up.

Observe how the flowers are pointing down. Photo from

So wear your poppy with pride. Pin it on your coat, wear it in your hair or even buy a giant one for the car. We must not forget that the sentiment that goes with wearing a poppy is more important than social customs. I leave you with this very cool “educational” video on how to wear your poppy.

In remembrance,

How to wear a tiara: a tribute to The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire

Last night, over a post-supper Earl Grey, the grave voice of BBC Radio 4 announced that Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the last of the Mitford sisters had passed away.  I was filled with profound sadness. I knew the Mitford sisters. That is, I knew of them.

The Mitford sisters (L-R top): Unity, Jessica, Diana; (L-R bottom): Pamela, Deborah, Nancy. Photo from BBC News

If you are not familiar with the Mitfords, I encourage you to find out more about them. They are a fascinating collective; six sisters who, in the course of their lives would become involved with some of the most influential figures of the last century. The sisters were often described thus: novelist Nancy, farmer Pamela, Diana the beauty, communist Jessica, Nazi sympathiser Unity and Duchess Deborah. Their lives are documented from the hundreds of letters the sisters wrote to each other.

The youngest Mitford sister, Deborah married the Lord Andrew Cavendish, the future Duke of Devonshire. (Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes played ancestors of the family in the film The Duchess).  Deborah is credited with transforming the family seat, Chatsworth, into one of the most popular visitor’s destinations in England.

Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. Photo from

I have visited Chatsworth, and it was from Deborah’s book All in One Basket that I learned my tiara etiquette. She recalled attending a dance given by The Queen at Windsor Castle where she came down to dinner wearing the Devonshire tiara (see picture below), to find she was the only person wearing one. Embarrassed for being overdressed, she sat through the meal wishing she was anywhere else. When the dancing began, she took it off, put it under a chair and enjoyed herself enormously. She said,

‘I suppose Windsor Castle is the only house where you could be sure of finding the blessed thing still there at bedtime.’

The Devonshire tiara. Photo from

Why wear a tiara
‘They are the nighttime equivalent of an Ascot hat. They are the finishing flourish to the best evening dress; the opposite of dressing down.’ So Deborah described what tiaras are for.

Traditionally, tiaras were worn only by married women. This was because they were heirlooms, and belonged to the men from great families and were worn by the wives. Today, tiaras continue to be a popular feature of the bridal trousseau. Indeed, for a bride blessed with a slightly large head, a tiara would look more becoming than a full veil.

Wearing a tiara automatically improves one’s bearing. One cannot slouch when wearing it. In spite of the combs and pins, there is a possibility of it slipping. I should know, I once wore one to a fancy dress party. They make the wearer sit and stand straighter, thereby making them look more distinguished and instantly taller.

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Photo from The Independent

How to wear a tiara
Queens and empresses wear one at state occasions. Holly Golightly wore one as if it were part of her being. Always put your tiara on fully coiffed hair. The stones atop your head won’t shine and glitter as well when placed on unstyled hair.
Wear your tiara 2.5-5 cm (1-2 inches in old money) from your hairline. If worn too far to the front, one risks looking somewhat like a Neanderthal. If worn too far back, it will not be seen in photographs.

The Manchester tiara

Should you get a chance, do pay a visit to the jewellery gallery of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where you will find tiaras that provide a delightful insight into the history of their owners. My favourite is the Manchester tiara, made for Consuelo, Duchess of Manchester. She was an American socialite who married into one to the great English families in the late 1800’s. The credit line of the tiara display reads, ‘Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax, 2007’. Like I said, absolutely delightful!

All the best,

To Duchess Deborah and the Mitford sisters.

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.

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.  

Photo credit

Photo credit

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

Photo credit

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.”

Photo credit

Photo credit

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.’

Photo credit:

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.


First Christmas with the “in-laws”

Photo from f*

Photo from f***

Your first Christmas with your partner’s family is quite the milestone. It suggests some commitment from both of you.

This post might be helpful for those who will be meeting the parents for the first time. I shall write a separate post on that theme.

But mainly, this was written for individuals who have previously met the parents and are having their first Christmas with them. I have divided this post into three: before, during and after the event.

Photo from

Photo from magicalchristmaswreaths.

A. Pre-arrival:

1. Get some background information

Are they a family of early risers or will it be opening presents in pyjamas?

Are there any topics of conversation best avoided? It is a faux pas to talk about your choice of horses at the Grand National when Uncle Benny turns out to have a gambling problem.

Know the house rules, and be prepared.

2. Take a present

Failing to take a host(ess) gift is an oversight and a missed opportunity for brownie points. A potted poinsettia, champagne or a box of nice chocolates would suffice.

The family will more than likely give you a Christmas gift. So, it is best if you give them what I call a little “generic present”. These are classic and not too novel; perfect for an almost stranger.

Remember to enclose the gift receipt. As you get to know the family more, your gifts will evolve to reflect your growing acquaintance.

Good generic gifts: this year’s Man Booker prize winner, a hamper of edible goodies, or if you excel at it, something homemade.

Bad generic gifts: toiletries, watches, mirrors, clothing (this includes socks and scarves), vouchers, anything they might be obliged to wear or display.

It’s also acceptable to give one big gift ‘for the house’ or ‘for the whole family’.

If you have not been going out for long, it is perfectly alright to just sign both your names in the cards and give the gifts from both of you.

Photo from

Photo from

B. The main event:

1. Presenting yourself

It is best to dress on the conservative side. Be a fine lady or gentleman and captivate them with elegant presentation. Take one smart outfit with you to cover all eventualities.

Turn the formality up slightly, at least at the beginning. What may be normal for your partner, such as swearing or walking around in a dressing gown is not for you.

2. Conversations

Well-informed conversation with a bite of opinion is the key here. This is not the time to discuss one’s political views, the economy, global warming or religion. Avoid controversy, but debate with reason.

If you run out things to say, just remember the things you read in the Travel and Culture section of The Guardian. For instance, ‘I read that Budapest is this year’s trending winter destination.’ is a good conversation filler.

Show a united front; never gang up on your partner to get on other family members’ side.

Remember that gushing compliments often sound insincere.

3. Join in

Offer a little help with the cooking during the big day. Do not be offended if it is politely refused. They have been doing this for years, and you might just get in the way.

Take initiative in doing the household chores. So don’t offer to wash up, just do it.

4. Boudoir boundaries

If you are sharing a bedroom, be super discreet. If you are in separate rooms, let your boyfriend or girlfriend do the bed-hopping. If anyone is caught in flagrante in the hallway, it should not be you.

C. On departure:

1. Thank you letter

Send your hosts a thank you note within the first week of the new year. Read my previous post on how to write a thank you letter. Traditionally, one only writes to the lady of the house, but augment as you see fit.

2. Debriefing

Inevitably, you will be discussing how the visit went. Resist the urge to criticise any member of the family. Only your partner may do so.

Final words:

Don’t be overly nervous; you are bound to have fun. Be yourself, but just a tiny bit polished. Take this as your opportunity to do secret reconnaissance of the family you may be part of in the future.

All the best,