Monday, October 17, 2016

A Lady's Rule on Selfies

As a general rule, a lady does not take photographs of herself to post publicly for the sole purpose that she may be seen.  No matter how pleased she may be with her hair, dress, or overall appearance, she does not resort to taking her own picture and promoting it any more than she would go around saying, "Look at me!  Look at me!"

Despite its widely accepted practice, a lady remains clear-sighted in recognizing this act for what previous generations would have called it:  vanity.

Photo: found on Pinterest

P.S. I'd like to express my heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you who have written to let me know how much you have missed updates here.  I set A Lady's Code aside during a very busy season, but hope to continue posting as time permits.  God bless each one of you!

Friday, April 22, 2016

A Presumption of Confidentiality

As a general rule, a lady treats all personal information an individual shares with her with a presumption of confidentiality, and does not repeat it to others.  Even when the news does not appear to be of a secretive nature, a lady always gives the person concerned the right to tell whomever he or she pleases, and to deliver the news firsthand.  To take it upon herself to tell another's personal news would be a violation of her code.

Principle:  A lady does not repeat personal information about others.

Photo: Karen Radkai, Vogue, August 1953

Saturday, April 16, 2016

How a Lady Uses a Table Napkin

A lady observes the following guidelines for proper use of a table napkin:

  • Leave the napkin on the table until the hostess signals the start of the meal by picking up her napkin.  If there is no host, wait until two or three others are seated at the table to remove your napkin from its place.
  • Don't unfold the napkin above the table; bring it under the table and open it just above your lap. If it is a larger cloth napkin, fold it in half and place it in your lap with the fold side closest to the waist. Smaller cloth napkins and paper napkins are unfolded completely.
  • With two fingers extended behind your napkin, use it to blot your lips, first on one side of the mouth and then on the other, creating an invisible "V" over your mouth. This is done whenever you feel you might have something on your mouth and every time you are about to take a sip of your drink, to prevent smudging the rim of your glass with your lips.
  • Raise your napkin to cover your mouth and nose if you suddenly cough or sneeze. Think of the napkin as a screen behind which you are coughing or sneezing, not as a handkerchief to wipe or blow your nose.  
  • Should you need to excuse yourself from the table during the meal, the napkin is laid in loose folds to the left of your dinner plate.  Be careful that any soiling on your napkin is turned under and not in view of other diners. 
  • Never spit unwanted food into the napkin.  Anything that cannot be swallowed should be discreetly removed with your fork and tucked under some other food or garnish on the plate.
  • Keep your napkin in your lap until the hostess signals the end of the meal by removing hers from her lap.  When there is no host, wait until everyone at the table is finished eating before placing your napkin, loosely folded, to the left of your plate.

Photo: appearing on Pinterest

Monday, March 28, 2016

How a Lady Eats a Hamburger

When a lady eats a hamburger, she first considers its size.  If it's quite small, as in the photo above, she eats it as is.  If it is larger, however, she first cuts the hamburger into more manageable halves, and if it is very big or has condiments that are likely to get messy, into fourths. Then, picking up one piece, she takes a bite about the size of a quarter (twenty-five cent piece) which can be neatly and comfortably chewed with her mouth closed.  If there are toppings that threaten to spill, a lady removes them with her fork to the side of her plate and then uses her fork and knife to eat them.

Although in very casual settings it is acceptable to put condiments directly onto a hamburger, in business or more formal surroundings, it is proper to first pour a small amount of the sauce on the edge of the plate and then spread it on the hamburger with a knife.  

Illustration: 1950s USA Eating Hamburgers by The Advertising Archives found on Fine Art America, 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

That's All Well and Good

When a lady is asked, "How are you?", she replies, "I am well, thank you! How are you?"  

She does not say, "I'm good," because she correctly understands that to be a statement either about her virtue (I'm good, as opposed to evil) or about her ability (I'm talented, as opposed to incompetent.)  

Likewise, a lady does not use "I'm good" as a substitute for "No, thank you" in response to an offer for more of something. When asked, "Would you like more tea?" a lady doesn't say, "No, I'm good," when she means, "No, thank you."

Principle:  A lady knows the difference between well and good, and uses them correctly.

Photo: found on Pinterest

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Handling Unwanted Questions

Thoughtful reader AHHa recently asked for help in answering questions that make her uncomfortable.

Thank you, AHHa, for an excellent question.  A lady's code does not require her to answer every question she is asked.  Some questions are better left unanswered.  So when the occasion arises, a lady doesn't feel compelled to give information when she'd rather not. Instead, she preserves her personal boundaries without being disagreeable. She might smile and say good-naturedly, "Oh, I'm afraid that's top-secret information..." or simply, "I really couldn't say."  No explanation or apology is owed for not answering the question.  A simple response, said in a pleasant, but confident way is enough.

Photo:  Gitta Schilling with Hat by Laroche,  photographed by Regina Relang

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A Secret to Refinement

Lack of repose of manner -- that is a key to so much that is amiss in decorum among us.
Rev. C.W. De L. Nichols, Correct Social Usage

While reading a book defining correct social behavior from my great-grandmother's day (1906), I came upon a small section addressing "repose of manner."  The phrase seems quaint in our modern vernacular, yet it beautifully describes the essence of refinement lost to many in our twenty-first century.

What is repose of manner?   It is a calm dignity in the way a person conducts herself.  Here are four specific ways to develop repose of manner:

  1. Slow down.  Hurry and refinement do not go together.  Rushing is inconsistent with the calm, measured actions of a reposed manner.  Slowing down allows you to speak and act thoughtfully, and makes your presence soothing to others.
  2. Develop savoir faire.  Know what to do and say.  This is accomplished by study and observation.  Search out books and articles on etiquette and feminine charm.  Read the biographies of true ladies and gentlemen.  Learn from previous generations who knew more about gentility.  Knowing the proper thing to do and say gives confidence to act with calm dignity.
  3. Be Unflappable.  Retain your composure in upsetting circumstances.  Respond to rudeness with finesse.  Keep a sense of humor when things go haywire.  
  4. Maintain a degree of personal mystique.  Repose of manner requires more reserve than is demonstrated by the average woman in our society.  Nothing is refined about giving out too much personal information. Practice quiet restraint by listening and observing more than speaking.  Keep a discerning sense of privacy.

Principle:  A lady demonstrates repose of manner.

Photo: by Regina Relang, Paris 1950s

Sunday, February 7, 2016

On Graphic Clothing

A lady's wardrobe is discreet.  She knows that her chest is not a billboard, and would not wear clothing with words or pictures across her bosom any sooner than she would walk down the street in a sandwich board sign.  

Principle:  Because they are not discreet, a lady does not wear graphic clothes.

Photo:  Grace Kelly, taken by Mark Shaw, 1954.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

After-Dinner Commentary

Under no circumstances does a lady ever declare after eating that she is "full" or "stuffed".  If her hostess offers her more when she has had enough, she smiles and simply answers, "No, thank you. I'm very satisfied."  She never announces that she has eaten too much or in any way reports on the status of her stomach.

Principle:  A lady may say that she is satisfied, but never full or stuffed.

Art: Lady at the Tea Table, Mary Cassatt.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Lady of Steel and Velvet

A genuine lady is cut from rare material ...
velvety soft, exceedingly strong.

On one side, a lady is made of steel:  she is strong and not overly sensitive to her own feelings.  She is not quickly hurt, nor is she easily offended.  When others are ungracious or ill-mannered, she does not take it personally, and readily gives others the benefit of the doubt when mistakes are made. She is quick to forgive people's oversights, and never assumes the worst about another's intentions. With regard to her own emotional sensitivity, she possesses steely strength.

On the other side, a lady is made of velvet:  she is gentle and keenly sensitive to the feelings of others.  She holds herself to the highest standard of behavior in matters of courtesy and kindness, while extending grace to those who fall short of her own ideals.  

Principle:  A lady is not easily offended (made of steel), but is extremely sensitive toward others (made of velvet).

Photo: by Walter Blum, 1950s.

Friday, January 22, 2016

On Expressing Compliments

A lady considers that it is possible to be thoughtless
when expressing a compliment.

Because a lady strives to be considerate of everyone around her, she does not compliment an individual on matters of dress or appearance in the presence of others, but waits for an opportunity to express her admiration privately.  She is aware that by complimenting one in a group setting, she may leave the others with the subtle (but distinct) impression that her compliment does not apply to them.

For example, if in front of Ann, Mary admires Grace's dress, then Ann may be left to conclude that hers did not merit a compliment.  For this reason, Mary, if she is a lady of courtesy, will wait to compliment Grace privately.

Principle:  On matters of dress or appearance, a lady does not compliment one individual in a group.

Art: Painting by Edmund Tarbell, 1880

Sunday, January 17, 2016

To Put Others at Ease

Good manners is the art of making those people easy with whom we converse.
Whoever makes the fewest people uneasy is the best bred in the room.
Jonathan Swift

Although a lady is skilled in the rules of propriety, she never forgets that without kindness, good manners are utter vanity.  Keenly sensitive to others' feelings, a lady seeks to put people at ease with her warmth and genuine interest in them.  To act in any way that would upset or embarrass another human being would be a violation of her code.  Should a person unwittingly blunder, she exercises quick presence of mind and uncommon courtesy to effectively put him or her at ease.

Queen Victoria masterfully illustrated this noble quality at a British diplomatic reception given in honor of a certain African chieftain.  As the dinner came to a close, the visiting chief who had never seen a finger bowl, picked up his bowl and drank the contents. Stunned guests stared in silence at the foreign dignitary's faux pas; but the Queen, in order to protect her guest from certain humiliation, proceeded to raise her own finger bowl to her lips and drink, whereupon every other guest dutifully followed suit.

“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.
If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” 

Principle:  A lady seeks to put others at ease with her sensitive kindness.

Art: The Cup of Tea by Mary Cassatt

Thursday, January 14, 2016

On Borrowing

"A lady does not borrow of anyone without the extremest need..."
Katherine Eleanor Conway, A Lady and Her Letters, 1905

Ordinarily, a lady is predisposed against borrowing.  She does not take possession of another's belongings lightly, and understands that a seemingly small request may for unexpected reasons cause inconvenience to the lender.  She also considers that an item may have come to its owner at some sacrifice or may have the sentimental attachment of being a gift from someone dear, and for this reason is reluctant to risk accident to it.  Therefore, as a general rule,  a lady obtains her own or does without.

"Who goeth a borrowing goeth a sorrowing."
Thomas Tusser, "June's Abstract"

Principle:  A lady does not readily borrow of others.

Photo: found on Pinterest

Monday, January 11, 2016

To Say, "You're Welcome!"

The words "you're welcome" have by and large been replaced in our ultra-casual social atmosphere. In response to "thank you," we often hear "not a problem," "no worries," or "don't mention it." What's the difference?  Does it matter that we're not saying "you're welcome" anymore?

Yes, yes it does.  Consider what is lost in this subtle replacement of words.  What is missing?  "You" is missing.  And as a result, the message is altered tremendously.  Saying "no problem," turns the focus from the other person to ourselves, leaving the subtle implication that there might be times when we'd consider it a problem.  Replies like "no worries" can leave a person feeling like they had just apologized instead of offering sincere appreciation.  Saying "no problem" and "no worries" leaves the thanker feeling like their appreciation has been sidestepped.  It is the verbal equivalent of returning a thank you note unopened.

On the other hand, responses such as "you're very welcome," or "it's my pleasure," spoken genuinely, give the other person the satisfaction of having his or her thanks warmly accepted.

Principle: In response to "Thank you," a lady says, "You're welcome!"

Photo: Glamis Castle Roses by David Austen found on Pinterest

Saturday, January 9, 2016

On Chewing Gum

 "All the young ladies ... are exercising themselves with this nauseating gum game.
It is an interesting sight to see them in the parlor all chewing,
their nether jaws moving with the graceful characteristics of so many cows."
A Milwaukee journalist, July 1860

Upon observing the fairer sex chewing gum, one nineteenth century gentleman wryly noted, "the process of mastication does not enhance the attractiveness of the human face."

Over a century later, one is hard pressed to quarrel on that point. Nothing is becoming about a woman constantly chewing like a cow on its cud, even when she manages to chew quietly and with her mouth closed.

Therefore, a lady does not chew gum in public.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

To Stand Like a Lady

Jacqueline Kennedy at the Taj Mahal, India, 1962.

Popular culture is showing young women how to stand for photographs, resulting in a dearth of ladylike stance.  Virtual photos are replete with young women posing with one knee flexed and one hand on a flaunting hip.  Gentility laments for what is being lost. 

A lady stands with self-possesion, grace, and dignity.  To stand like a lady, imagine a vertical line of five points from head to toe: ears, shoulders, elbows, knees and feet.  
  • Ears should be held directly over the shoulders. This ensures a lovely, straight neck.
  • Shoulders should be straight and downward, neither hunched forward, nor thrust backward. 
  • Elbows should be slightly bent with hands gracefully at your sides, not on hips.  If hands are brought together, they should be held at waist level, not folded at the pelvic girdle.  
  • Knees close together.
  • Feet should be positioned with one slightly in front of the other, with the heel of the front foot at the arch of the back foot.  
 "...that our daughters may stand like graceful pillars polished to adorn a palace."
Psalm 144:12