Formalities In Dress And Etiquette
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy was old Polonius' advice to his
son, and he counseled suitability as well. It is this question of
suitability that is the hall mark of correct dressing. A safe rule to
follow, especially in the case of a young woman, is not to be
conspicuous in attire and to conform to the standards of dress as set
down by older women of recognized standing in the town in which she
lives and the co
munity in which her social or business life is spent.
A young girl needs little adorning. Her school or college dresses should
be characterized by their neatness, freshness, correctness of cut and
utility rather than by elaborate trimmings or costly materials. Her
party gowns are simpler than those of a girl who has left school, and
she wears less jewelry. At the end of school life, if her parents are
able and willing to give her a coming-out party, she begins her social
career under the pleasantest auspices, and this is the opportunity for
her first elaborate gown.
The character of this gown depends largely on the nature of the
entertainment given her.
It most commonly takes the form of an afternoon tea or reception to
which her mother invites all of her friends as well as the younger set.
The debutante receives with her mother and wears an elaborate frock of
light material and color, made high in the neck and with elbow sleeves.
Long white gloves are worn, and her hair is more elaborately arranged
than it was during her school-girl period. In fact, she is now a full-
fledged young lady and is dressed accordingly. Such a gown may serve
later as an informal evening gown, or, if it is made with a detachable
yoke, it may be worn as a dancing-frock or for any evening occasion for
which a full evening gown is expected.
The receiving party at an afternoon function generally includes near
relatives of the debutante, and a number of her intimate girl friends
are asked to assist in various ways. These receive with her and her
mother in the early part of the afternoon and later assist at the tea
table or mingle among the guests. The ladies assisting do not wear hats,
and the young girls in the party are gowned much like the debutante,
except that their gowns may be less elaborate if they choose, and they
do not carry flowers.
A popular girl or one with many family connections may count on a good
many floral offerings on the occasion of her coming-out party. These are
scattered about the room, either left in bunches or arranged in vases.
One large bunch she generally carries in her left hand, and it is a wise
girl who avoids singling out anyone of her men friends by carrying his
flowers. A gift from her father or brother or the flowers sent by some
friend of the family is the better choice. The success a girl makes
during her first year in society depends more on her general popularity
than on the devotion of any one man.
For an afternoon reception light refreshments, consisting of tea,
coffee, chocolate, perhaps a light claret cup, with cakes and delicate
sandwiches, are sufficient, and these are set out on a long table in a
room adjoining the reception parlors.
If a large number of guests are expected it is necessary to have a maid
or two in attendance to remove cups and saucers, keep the tea urn
replenished with hot water and to bring additional cakes and sandwiches
if the supply on the table is in danger of running short. Two women
friends are generally asked to preside at the refreshment table, one at
each end to pour tea and chocolate, and, as this task is an arduous one
and much of the success of the entertainment depends on its being well
done, it is advisable to relieve the ladies in charge during the
afternoon. This, however, like every other feature of the entertainment,
should be arranged beforehand. The charm of an afternoon reception lies
in its apparent informality, but every detail should be considered in
advance and all contingencies provided for. The debutante, and
especially her mother, should be relieved from all such responsibilities
before the guests begin to come.
The mother's duties consist in welcoming her guests and presenting her
daughter to them. If many people are arriving the guests are quickly
passed on to some one of the ladies assisting, whose duty it is to see
that they meet some of those who are already in the room and are
eventually asked to the tea table. A part of the receiving party, and
certainly the hostess and her daughter, should remain together in a
place where they may be easily found as the guests enter the room.
No more sympathetic act of friendship can be shown a debutante than to
contribute toward the success of her party. Girls who are asked to
assist should remember that their first duty is not to entertain their
own friends who may happen to be present, but to see that everyone is
welcome and that especially those who are not acquainted with many in
the room have an opportunity to become so. Anyone asked to assist at a
function of this sort is in a sense a hostess, and it is quite within
her province to enter into conversation with any unoccupied guest
whether she has been introduced or not.
The usual hours for an afternoon tea are from four to six, but in the
case of a coming-out reception the hour is often prolonged to seven so
as to allow more men to be present than would be the case if the time
were restricted to the early afternoon. In these busy days few men are
at liberty to make afternoon calls, and it is always a compliment to a
girl if her tea includes a sprinkling of black coats. Whatever hours are
decided on, they should be engraved on the cards sent out two weeks
before the tea. These are of the form and size of an ordinary
visiting-card and include the daughter's name below that of her
mother's. If she is the eldest unmarried daughter or the only girl in
the family the card reads as follows:
Mrs. Geo. Baker Blank
December 9, 1911
4 to 7 o'clock
The daughter's given name is only used in case she has an older
Ball and Evening Reception.
A more elaborate form of coming-out party consists of a ball or of an
evening reception followed by dancing, and in this case the card
contains the word Dancing below the date of the entertainment and the
hours at which it is given. Few homes are large enough to provide for
even a small dance, and so a party of this sort is generally given at a
hotel. The guests as well as the receiving party wear evening gowns
without hats, and men are expected to come in full evening clothes,
which means the long-tailed coats and not the popular Tuxedo, white
gloves, and, although this is not obligatory, white waistcoats.
After a girl has been introduced into society she has her individual
visiting-cards, makes her own calls and is allowed to receive her own
friends. Social customs differ with locality, and the chaperon is less
customary in the West than in the East. In many cities girls are allowed
to go to the theater and to evening parties with a man friend without a
married woman being included in the party. A wise girl, however, is
careful that any man she meets shall be introduced as soon as possible
to some older member of her family and to introduce a young man calling
for the first time to either her mother or father. Also when she accepts
an invitation to an evening's entertainment she insists that her escort
shall call for her at her own home and bring her directly home at the
close of it. Dining or supping at a restaurant alone with a young man is
sure to expose a girl to criticism.
A Woman's Lunch.
There are many pleasant forms of entertainment offered to a young girl
entering society in which men are not included, and the most popular of
these is a woman's lunch. This is a favorite form of entertainment for a
young married woman to give in honor of some girl friend who has just
come out in society or whose engagement has just been announced. One
o'clock or half after is the usual hour, and the meal is served in
courses and is as elaborate as the household resources may allow. The
decorations of the table are important, and three courses are sufficient
if they are carefully arranged. Handsome street costumes are worn for a
function of this sort, and the guest of honor, if there is one, dresses
as the others do. Outer wraps are left in the hall or in a room put
aside for this purpose, and, as a rule, hats are retained and gloves
removed when the guests sit down at table.
The custom of wearing a hat during lunch is not an arbitrary one, and it
is not universal. In France, for example, where social customs are most
carefully observed, it is the custom to wear handsome afternoon gowns if
invited for the noon meal and to remove hats. The noon meal there is a
social function, and certain formalities are observed. In London, on the
contrary, no matter if a number of guests are expected, lunch is an
informal occasion, and women dress for lunch as they would for an
Hats are worn and women are prepared to rush off afterwards to meet
other engagements. The English custom prevails now in the large cities
in America, and, moreover, women seem disinclined to remove their hats
after they are once dressed for the round of the day's social
It is simpler and really quite conventional to leave the wearing of hats
to the individual. The hostess should ask her guest if she wishes to
take her hat off or retain it, and she can at the same time intimate to
her guest, if she is a stranger in the town, what the others will
probably do in this connection. True hospitality on the part of the
hostess is to make her guests at ease, and true politeness on the part
of the visitor is to conform to the rules governing the community that
she is visiting.