Amy Vanderbilt’s Advice on Accepting Jewelry

This excerpt comes from Amy Vanderbilt’s Every Day Etiquette circa 1956 page 191. I find this advice interesting because in our times, people accept all kinds of gifts from whomever offers them, never really giving much thought to the look of it all. This young lady wrote to Miss Vanderbilt and asked if she must give back a costume jewelry bracelet. Miss Vanderbilt responds with the passage below:

No, costume jewelry does not come within this ban. An un-engaged man should not give to a girl such things as real diamonds, pearls, or mink coats. He must avoid anything so personal as underthings. A recent news picture showed an important American diplomat fastening on his daughter’s wrist a large rhinestone bracelet which, it was explained, was a “gift from one of her boy friends”. So, you see, gifts of costume jewelry are quite all right, even though the cost may be high. After all he could have sent you a spray of orchids that could have cost the same amount of money or entertained you at an equally expensive dinner. 

I agree with Miss Vanderbilt…it is always nice to have a durable gift!

Best Vintage Wishes,

The Lady Hooper-Brackett

A Look At Advice from 1860

I came across this advice from the The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness by Florence Hartley.  I believe that both of these pieces of advice still stand today. Enjoy a little look back at Conversation Advice.

Never interrupt any one who is speaking. It is very Ill-bred. If you see that a person to whom you wish to speak is being addressed buy another person, never speak until she had heard and replied; until her conversation with that person is finished. No truly polite lady ever breaks in upon a conversation or interrupts another speaker. 

It is a mark of ill-breeding to use French phrases or words, unless you are sure your companion is a French scholar, and even then, it is best to avoid them. Above all, do not use any foreign word or phrase, unless you have the language perfectly at your command. I heard a lady once use a Spanish quotation; she had mastered that one sentence alone;  but a Cuban gentleman, delighted to meet an American who could converse with him in his own tongue, immediately addressed her in Spanish. Embarrassed and ashamed, she was obliged to confess that her knowledge of the language was confined to one quotation. 

Best Vintage Memory Wishes,

The Lady Hooper-Brackett

Advice on Insults from 1967

Here’s an excerpt from The Encyclopedia of Etiquette by Llewellyn Miller copyright 1967. This volume is very easy to read as it is written in alphabetical order. Let’s look at what Miss Miller advised when dealing with insults, be they intended or not. (Page 335 in this volume)

A famous definition of gentleman and lady is ‘One who never insults anyone unintentionally.’ To this can be added  ‘A lady or gentleman is one who never takes word, deed, or manner as an insult when none was intended.’ There is no complete remedy for either the calculated insult or one given under the hot impulse of anger. No matter how regretful or abject the apology, the memory of the insulting words remains. However, when an apology is offered it must be accepted. The acceptance can be stiff if the insult was deliberate. But if the insult was unintentional the only sensible thing to do, in sympathy for the embarrassment of the left-footed give, is to laugh and forget it.”

I agree with Miss Miller. It is certainly better to ignore such things as best as possible. I would even say if it is noted that this same person repeatedly acts in a boorish manner, I would more than likely only see this individual when absolutely necessary. Why subject yourself to more of the same?

Best “Insulting” Wishes,

The Lady Hooper-Brackett

Rules for a Girl On Her Own, Vogue’s Book of Etiquette 1948

I was flipping through Vogue’s Book of Etiquette copyright 1948. This excerpt is from the section “A Girl On Her Own” subsection “Men” (page 39 in this edition)  This mentions the strictest behavior rules and here they are, in their retro glory with my thoughts in parentheses.

  1. Never dine alone with a married man, unless his wife is your great friend. (Good advice, but be wary)
  2. Never accept an invitation through a man to the house of someone else. (Never accept an invitation from anyone except the house’s owner, in my  opinion)
  3. If you have met a man and his wife together, and the man asks you to a party at his house, do not accept. His wife should invite you. If she is away, of course there is no discourtesy implied, and if he invites you to a party, you may accept. (I disagree with this, by the way. She would say no  under any circumstances)
  4. Never drink anything alcoholic, except sherry, or a glass of wine with dinner. (I would say a margarita is also fine. Just don’t get drunk.)
  5. Never encourage stories that are risque. (I agree to a point. A little double entrendre is ok.)
  6. Never allow a man to come into your apartment if you are alone in it, or to stay on when other guests have left. (In our modern times, this is somewhat passé , but there is nothing wrong with not asking for trouble with a man you have not known for very long.)
  7. Never go alone with a man to his apartment, or stay on his apartment when other guests have gone. (Again, passé, but I stand my assertion that you shouldn’t risk it with a man you do not know well.)
  8. Never go alone with a man to his hotel room, even if he has a sitting room. (Agreed.)
  9. Never accept a valuable present from a beau or possible beau. (I agree that a bad impression can be made to others.)

What is very clear from the advice in this section is that, at least in 1948, a woman had to be vigilant and guard her reputation. Times have changed, yes, and the rules are more relaxed, but there is certainly nothing wrong with being old-fashioned and caring about these impressions. I would even dare say that some of these sound guidelines should come back into fashion.

Best Vintage Wishes,

The Lady Hooper-Brackett

A Banshee Roommate: Don’t Be One

I have an extensive collection of vintage etiquette books that I regularly peruse and consult. I wanted to share this little gem from the 1972 edition of Amy Vanderbilt’s Etiquette (Princess House edition…interestingly, Miss Vanderbilt was a special advisor to the company)

This is from the section The Agreeable Wife, page 624, where Miss Vanderbilt gives advice on being an attractive roommate (I chortle with glee every time I read this section of the book)

“I wonder how many wives could resist rising up in unholy protest if husbands suddenly took to wrapping their heads up in wire and head rags, greasing their faces, tying up their chins, putting on oiled mittens for the night. If a woman has her own room I suppose she can safely dedicate herself to the pursuit of beauty in her sleep, once she is alone. But if she shares her sleeping quarters, she is obliged to make herself an attractive roommate, not a banshee.”

Well. Times have changed, as I know no one who ties up their chin anymore or wears all kinds of hair curlers to bed (OUCH!) but I do think the advice is sound. We shouldn’t ‘let ourselves go’ and should strive to be as attractive as possible for our partners. This applies to both gentlemen and ladies.

Best Banshee Wishes,

The Lady Hooper-Brackett