Category Archives: From the Library

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.

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“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,
EtiKate

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.

Etiquette: The Card Game

First, an apology. It has been too long since my last post. A tragedy has befallen the House of EtiKate, and I’m afraid every other thing has been left neglected. I have had etiquette post topics in my mind throughout my absence, and I hope to be able to share it all with you in the weeks and months to come.

Since the start of the year, I have been going on more than my usual amount of weekend trips. On the Thursday before, I would already be thinking of an activity I’d like to do, or a place to visit. Then on the Saturday, I’d hop on the train and embark on my little adventure.

The City of Dreaming Spires

One of my favourite places to visit is the city of dreaming spires, Oxford. The city is easy enough to navigate on foot. The architecture, the history, the very atmosphere just commands an expression of greatness.  And in Oxford, one of my favourite haunts (of these there are many), is The Ashmolean Museum, Britain’s oldest university museum. I don’t wish to offend fellow pilgrims, but I would describe it as a cross between The National Gallery and the British Museum. I like to while away the hours staring at the Pre-Raphaelite paintings. I also love the corridor I like to call the “plate room”, where the fine porcelain are kept in large glass cases. Oh, the scandalous conversations those china plates must have overheard in their day!

The Ashmolean Museum

Previously, I wrote of the many books from which I take etiquette inspiration. I also mentioned several films that have added to my interest. I am happy to report, that this time, I have found a new fount of inspiration, and I discovered it in no other place than The Ashmolean gift shop!

This new inspiration, would you believe, is an etiquette card game. It’s called RSVP: Etiquette through the Ages. Think Trivial Pursuit where the sole category being etiquette and decorum. So, perhaps it’s more akin to Cards for Humanity?

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The latest addition to my library, Etiquette the Card Game

The deck is composed of quiz cards with questions on one side and the answers are on the reverse. There are topics on dining, communication and even “petiquette”. The cards were written and designed in the US and published with the approval of The Library of Congress. I think that lends more credibility to the card game.

I have picked a random card from the deck, and it reads:

True or False:
When attending a dinner party, it is perfectly acceptable to use the salt and pepper provided on the table to season one’s food.

I will let you mull that over before I give the answer.


I now have these cards in my sitting room in place of a coffee table book. It entertains as well as educates, with its bite-sized etiquette facts. For instance, did you know that, according to the celebrated socialite Gloria Guinness, the best way to prepare for a houseguest is to “sleep in your guest room before any guest who might be too polite to tell you what is wrong”. This would allow you to identify things you may have overlooked, an extra blanket, for example.

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Pick a card, any card.

I find these etiquette cards are a great conversation starter at house parties. They serve a similar purpose as the little jokes inside the Christmas crackers. I think my friends would be cautious when I invite them over for a “card game”. I just need to devise a scoring system for the game. On second thought, where etiquette is concerned, (do forgive me) everybody’s a winner!


In answer to the earlier question, it is acceptable to use the condiments and spices provided to season one’s food. The salt and pepper are there for a reason, so guests should feel free to season their food, discreetly, and only after you have tasted the food. And if someone asks for the salt, it is proper to send along the pepper as well, for the two travel together at the table.

Until we meet again,
EtiKate

#EndTheAwkward videos for disability charity Scope

I was waiting for the Disney film Maleficent to start when I came across the #EndTheAwkward advert for the disability services charity Scope. ‘What a brilliant idea,’ I thought, from an etiquette point of view.

The videos show potentially awkward situations between a person with a physical disability and another person who doesn’t know how to act. There’s a pause, where Alex Brooker, the narrator explains the best course of action.

Below is the advert I saw in the cinema. In it is a woman about to have a meeting with a man whose right hand was amputated. She hesitates for a moment, then decides to offer her left hand instead of giving him an “awkward wave”. Do watch the short video before reading on.

It is my favourite of the Scope videos, for personal reasons. When I was very young, my grandfather suffered several cerebral aneurysms that left him without memory or language and the right side of his body paralysed. After the unending months of therapy, Papi, as he was to me, was able to walk unassisted, his right leg dragging. Eventually he regained his ability to talk. He taught himself to do everything with his left hand, including write.

When it was time to introduce a gentleman suitor to the family, I remember saying, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t tell my brothers we went on holiday together. Also, remember to offer your left hand to Papi, alright?‘ My grandfather’s left-handed handshakes were so normal to me, it was almost secondary to the illicit couple’s holiday I was trying to keep secret.

My boyfriend did well, managed a ‘lovely to meet you,’ with their handshake. Papi had a wicked sense of humour, and was never one to sugarcoat his words. He asked my guest two questions, the first was ‘Do you smoke?’ And, well, the memory of the second question still conjures feelings of horrified disbelief for me. I’m glad I gave my gentleman friend prior warning. Soon he forgot about Papi’s encumbered walk and enfeebled right hand, instead he was simply scared of my protective grandfather and older brothers.

Meet the Parents. Photo from The Telegraph

Meet the Papi. Photo from The Telegraph

Living with a grandfather with impaired speech has taught me to be a better communicator. To this day, I am more sensitive than most, always the first to anticipate people’s needs. When I’m abroad, I find I have no trouble deciphering people’s gestures as they speak an intelligible foreign language.

Making friends in Seoul, South Korea

Making friends in Seoul, South Korea

I am not an authority on disability matters. I am an etiquette enthusiast speaking from experience. With that in mind, I suppose my own advice on how to #EndTheAwkward is, if you do tell friends how to act beforehand, they will be more at ease. This way, when a similar situation arises without warning, they will know what to do.

People will learn from their encounters and experiences, and they will act accordingly. I’m still learning. Not long ago, I told a lady in a wheelchair to ‘Have a seat; I’ll be with you shortly.’ I heard it as soon as I said it. We looked at each other, then we giggled together, hers a ‘heard this all before’ laugh; mine was more ‘oh I hope the ground opens up and swallows me whole’ chuckle.

Young love. Photo from uttcds.org

Photo from uttcds.org

I remember my grandfather saying that all he wants, is to be treated  as if he can run a marathon. Talk and interact with people with disability just like you would anyone else. A person’s inability to walk, move their hands or their limited vision does not affected how they think or feel. Unless they ask for help, avoid affectionate over familiarity that may come across as condescending.

As Naoki Higashida so poetically writes in The Reason I Jump, ‘True compassion is about not bruising the other person’s self-respect.’  

EtiKate

This post is not authorised by the charity Scope. I am however, promoting their #EndTheAwkward videos, as ever, with the aim to help everyone be at ease in every social situation. Learn more about Scope and their campaign on their website.

Country Life Magazine: Gentleman of the Year Awards

Country Life magazine has released their ‘Gentleman of the Year’ list. It looks like the key to being a modern gentleman is to be named David. There are four of them in the top five!

David Dimbleby- our Gentleman of the Year. Photo from The Guardian

David Dimbleby- our Gentleman of the Year. Photo from The Guardian

Veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby is revealed to be the number one British gentleman based on nominations. ‘…Every week, with both fairness and humour, he brilliantly controls the rat pack on Question Time,’ says novelist Jilly Cooper, who is a member of the panel of judges.

Other names include footballer David Beckham, actor Benedict Cumberbatch, cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins and former MP David Miliband, who has been commended for resisting the temptation to “smirk” at his brother’s political career.

Read the full list here.

Her Ladyship’s Guide to Modern Manners

Greys Court

Greys Court

Not long ago, my friend Ella took me to visit Greys Court. It is a splendid Tudor country house, now in the care of the National Trust. At the time, we did not realise that the house appeared in the TV show Downton Abbey as Downton Place, the secondary property of the Crawley Family. The place was not advertised thus. In my opinion, the beauty of the the house and the surrounding Chiltern Hills are enough to draw visitors, us being a case in point.

After afternoon tea, we wandered into the gift shop. They had a book called Her Ladyship’s Guide to Modern Manners. I already had a copy of course, purchased many years ago. Seeing the book in the shop made me realise I have not written a book review in some months. So this lengthy preface was to explain the inspiration for today’s post. Now on to the book review!

Her Ladyship's Guide to Modern Manners by Lucy Gray

Her Ladyship’s Guide to Modern Manners by Lucy Gray

This is one of the more formal books on etiquette and manners I have in my library. There are no illustrations or photos in the book. Her Ladyship’s writing is unembellished and with just a touch of humour. The rules of etiquette are serious matters after all.

The first part of the book posts and answers questions such as ‘who decides what good manners are?’ (short answer: we as a society all do). The book distinguishes rules of etiquette from good manners.
Her Ladyship explains that rules of etiquette, the formal practices that are expected in more ceremonial occasions such as weddings were put in place to help bind a certain social group together- in this case, the aristocratic class. In these days of modernity, some of the rules of etiquette from the outdated aristocratic system has carried over into good manners, what some would call ‘natural politeness’.

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In Her Ladyship we trust.

My favourite part of the book is the chapter of Rites of passage. It cover births, weddings and funerals (also known as hatches, matches and dispatches). These are the events that mark our progress through life and are always formal in some sense as it helps to make these occasions special. Her Ladyship offers her advice both for the celebrants and guests. She writes, ‘If you’re the one getting married, do makes sure your answers can be heard. It’s not a private moment as much as a public declaration.’ Altogether, this is an excellent book on manners and decorum. It is written with authority and invokes trust from its readers.

Arriving late: comedian Jason Manford buys audience drinks to apologise

Jason Manford bought audience drinks as an apology. Photo credit: bbc.co.uk

Jason Manford bought audience drinks as an apology. Photo credit: bbc.co.uk

Last week, Jason Manford bought a round of drinks for his 835-strong audience as an apology for keeping them waiting. The comedian was stuck in traffic for two hours and eventually made it to the stage 40 minutes late. I imagine the audience were very appreciative of his generosity as he took to the stage, and ultimately did not mind the late hour.

Is it the casual, modern way to be relaxed about punctuality? I certainly believe it’s impolite to be more than half an hour late for no good reason. Text messages saying, “So sorry, I’m running a little late. Be with you soon.” hardly makes up for it.

Waiting patiently. Photo credit: ace0fredspades.deviantart.com

Waiting patiently. Photo credit: ace0fredspades.deviantart.com

I’m not talking about Mr Manford here. He had a genuine reason for being late and made up for it. I’m talking about habitual offenders who constantly make their friends wait. I myself favour being on time, and feel positively embarrassed if I have kept someone waiting.

Photo credit: thebookpeople.co.uk

Photo credit: thebookpeople.co.uk

On this matter, I defer to the more expert hand of Thomas Blaikie, etiquette writer for The Lady magazine. He advocates being ruthless with friends who keep us waiting in public places. “If they are more than 15 minutes late for the third time, don’t wait another minute… Go off and amuse yourself elsewhere. With some people, lateness is a symptom of deep-seated unreliability and selfishness…But sometimes they reform. Always give them a chance if they promise to do better.”

However, Mr Blaikie advises arriving a little late for parties and dinners at other people’s houses. I do agree that it seems rather curious about guests who arrive on the dot. It gives the impression that they have been lurking just beyond your house, waiting for the exact moment to ring the bell. Often, hosts are grateful for the extra ten minutes after the stated time in which the guests don’t arrive. But do not be more than 15 minutes late without giving prior notice.

As a host, I sometimes have a quiet word with the notorious latecomers beforehand. I would give them an earlier start time than the rest of my guests. That way, I know the event will not overrun as a consequence of needless waiting. If they still arrive late, try starting without them. This happened to me in my early teens, and I’ve remembered the lesson ever since. I know it’s extreme, but it obliges us to respect other people’s time.

There may be an unspoken understanding in society that “if you are important, people will wait.” To some extent, this is practiced. However, do keep in mind that waiting for one person is discourteous to everyone else who made the effort to arrive on time.

Late for a date. Photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

Late for a date. Photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

Have you spotted an etiquette-related article in the news? Do tell us about it on Facebook, via Twitter, or on the comments section below.

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 gohemiantravellers.com

Photo credit gohemiantravellers.com

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 en.wikipedia.org

Photo credit en.wikipedia.org

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 commentaramafilms.blogspot.co.uk

Photo credit commentaramafilms.blogspot.co.uk

Anastasia
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.’

movies.film-cine.com

Photo credit: movies.film-cine.com

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

janeaustenfilmclub.blogspot.com

Photo credit janeaustenfilmclub.blogspot.com

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.

EtiKate