Sunday, February 3, 2013

Who Was Emily Post?

Etiquette expert Emily Post died over fifty years ago.  In a recent Vanity Fair poll of 18-44 year-olds, forty percent of those queried had no idea who Emily Post was or why she was famous.

Society has changed quite a bit in the ninety-one years since the publication of her 1922 book, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home. So, how relevant are Emily Post's etiquette rules to modern life in today's fast paced society of five second sound bites, social media, and instant global communication?

Some of the topics she covered in her book seem totally irrelevant today.  Subjects such as one of my favorites—how to keep your fan, gloves, and napkin on your lap at fancy dinner parties.  That skill has always been a stumbling block for me at the many fancy dinner parties I routinely attend where I need to bring my own fan because there isn't any air conditioning.  :) 

Some of her other advice, however, is still relevant today.

Fashion:  For men she recommended suits for everywhere and all occasions except what she referred to as the country.  When on a country outing, breeches and polished leather riding boots were acceptable.  Her thoughts on female style, however, are more relevant.  She said most women were fashion sheep, that they should take the trends of the day and personalize them for their own style.

Conversational Skills:  After you dismiss all the complicated stuff about when to doff a hat or curtsy, a lot of her advice is still common sense today.  Things such as—will what you have to say be interesting to those around you, don't repeat yourself, let other people talk, and don't pretend to know more than you do.

At a Live Performance:  Her book has lots of advice about things like how to dress and whether it's acceptable for a woman to attend with a man who is not her husband.  Bear in mind that she was referring to the theater, opera, or the symphony.  Her two biggest rules are one hundred percent relevant today—don't talk during the performance and be on time!

Introductions:  She apparently loved all the formalities of meeting new people, presenting calling cards, and how to properly address each other.  In today's society it's very common for people to know each other even without having ever met face-to-face.  We're friends on Facebook, I saw your video on YouTube, I read your tweet.  I imagine that would have thrown Emily into quite a tizzy.  :)

Mustn't:  Emily Post had lots of mustn'ts.  Here are a couple of examples.  "A lady mustn't carry a bundle of anything on the streets, but if she has to, a man must carry it for her."  "If a man doesn't enjoy the conversation a lady has offered, a woman mustn't be offended, but rather keep fishing for topics he might find agreeable."  This sort of reminds me of that magazine article from the mid 1950s about how to be a good wife.  Definitely advice to make today's woman cringe.  :)

Houses:  Her advice in this area seems the most outdated and indicates that her advice was apparently intended for the wealthy.  She advised that a house must have servants on hand to collect a visitor's things when they visit.

It's easy to make fun of etiquette rules published ninety-one years ago, but Emily Post's most basic rule seems as necessary today as it was back then.  "Never do anything that is unpleasant to others."


Word Actress said...

I love manners - those pleases & thank-yous.
My grandmother insisted on things like that.
In my third book, a novel, The Girl With Sand in Her Hair, I'm having a sub-plot be this Homeless Camp
where the leader, Tess Honeymoon, creates a places
of respect, kindness and lots of pleases and thank-yous. Fun post!

Mary Kennedy Eastham, Author,
The Shadow of a Dog I Can't Forget
& Squinting Over Water - Stories

Shawna Delacorte said...

Mary: Sounds like an interesting subplot for your book.

Thanks for your comment.