The pithy, opinionated, and sometimes brutally frank Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke challenges average guys to live a life less ordinary and embrace classic style in the broadest sense. it's time to rise above the trite, the boring, the predictable, the mundane, the banal, and the commonplace. It's time to stop behaving like barnyard animals at the trough and leave behind the perpetually sloppy man-child aesthetic of the last two decades or so. It's time to learn once again how to present and conduct yourself like an adult with some grooming, finesse, and sophistication. And here is where you can learn how.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Novelty Ties and Other Social Faux Pas. . .

If you're above the age of 12, and even that's pushing things a bit, it's high time to find and eradicate any and all novelty neckties from your closet, including the Tasmanian Devil, Peppy Le Peu, Wylie Coyote, and the like along with items like Green Bay Packers or Chicago Bears neckties and belt buckles.

The title says it all.  For you edification, a faux pas is a French term meaning literally a "false step."  In addition, however, the term has also come to mean a social blunder, usually of the worst kind.  Hence the title of today's post.  In our ongoing effort to kick up our everyday style, there are certain things us average guys want to avoid doing ANYTIME we have been invited to an organized and more formal social occasion.  Got it?  We aren't wild dogs and have not been raised in barns after all.  So, let's do our best always to demonstate some grooming and social grace.  Without further ado, then, here are ten related social P&Q's for average guys to ponder.


1) Invitations
Ok.  You've been sent an invitation to a semi-formal or formal event, like a wedding, a special dinner, an evening corporate event, or a similar occasion.  What do you do?  You'll notice the abbreviation somewhere near the bottom, which specifies R.S.V.P.  That simply is a fancy French way of asking you to "Please Respond."  After checking your schedule for the day or evening in question, you need to do this as soon as possible.  Don't forget!  You don't want to be one of those people, and there are many sadly, who never acknowledges the invitation whether they intend to be present at an event, or not.

Before you return the enclosed reply card that was included with the invitation, do not, repeat do not do the following.  First, do not plan to bring along a guest unless "and guest" has been specified on the invitation.  Second, do not alter the number of guests on the response card if it has been made clear that you and only one guest are expected.  Last, do not telephone and ask the host(s) if you may bring along other people (including children) who have not been included by name on the invitation.  

Behaviors like these are major social blunders and just rude.  Don't do it, even if it's for a fairly informal occasion.  All three actually happened in connection with our wedding in 2006.  Frankly, given who the people in question were -- all distant family, but not distant enough -- we shouldn't have been surprised, but it still left us more than a bit nonplussed at the time.  Please don't put your hosts in a similar and equally uncomfortable position. 


2) Attire Requirements
 The correct type of dress should be crystal clear since we are talking semi-formal and formal events and occasions here.  If you are in doubt, however, and attire is not mentioned specifically on an invitation, it's a good idea to call the host(s) ahead of time (several days before the event) and inquire specifically what sort is expected.  No one can fault you for asking, so don't feel silly about doing it.  

Imagine how embarrassed you'd feel (or should) if you were to show up in wrinkled khakis and a short sleeve dress shirt with a novelty tie and no jacket of any kind, only to find that every other male in attendance, save for one additional oddball, wore either a suit and tie or sports jacket and odd trousers along with said necktie.  This too happened at our wedding.  

Neither do you want to show up horribly overdressed for a backyard barbecue and pool party.  That's not what I'm saying.  I'd suggest within reason, however, always going to any event dressed slightly better than one absolutely needs to be. 


3) Suits, Blazers, Sports Jackets, Etc.
Here's the deal, guys.  For semi-formal and formal events: sports jacket or blazer, creased dress pants, and tie for the former, and a suit and tie for the latter.  An ironed tucked in shirt, recently shined leather dress shoes, and a matching leather belt in either case.  Don't get caught short and arrive looking like a doofus because you aren't dressed in accordance with the event and occasion.  

If you are an adult above the age of 18, make it your business to have, at the very least, one charcoal or navy blue suit hanging in your closet along with a navy blazer (blazers have brass buttons), a subtly patterned wool sports jacket, an odd pair or two of creased wool dress pants, plus a decent pair of leather shoes with replaceable leather soles.  And two pairs would be better.  As I have mentioned so often before, you need not spend piles of money either.  Thriftshops and Ebay are great for finding quality garments and accessories at cut rate prices.   And sometimes for even less than that.

Be sure, though, to have whatever you purchase altered by an alterations tailor before you wear the garments, so that the fit is good.  Make sure jackets aren't too big in the shoulders before you buy though since it's difficult, if not impossible, to alter that area satisfactorily.  The jacket waist, sleeve length, and trouser waist plus inseam should be altered to fit your body though.  Otherwise, it will look like you've borrowed your grandfather's suit.  Not quite the impression you want to make after leaving college or university, is it?


4) Dress Shirts
When the invitation is to a semi-formal or formal event, we are talking long-sleeved dress shirts with collars and buttons -- without exception -- beneath our suit coats or sports jackets.  If you are an adult male, it's a really good idea to have more than just one or two of these.  Ideally, you ought to have five or six long-sleeved dress shirts, in pale blues and white, clean, pressed, and hanging in your closet, ready to go at a moment's notice.  Always.  Even if you don't wear them everyday.  

Unless you live in the Southern United States, or a tropical area, do not leave the house for a (semi-) formal event in a short-sleeved shirt.  You'll look like a boob without a clue.  And no,  those insipid untucked "going out" shirts don't cut it either unless you're holding up the bar in a juke joint with a dirty concrete floor along a county highway somewhere.


5) Novelty Ties
You shouldn't ever bother with these stupid things once you've left junior high.  But the number of poor, sad schlubs who continue to do so well past the age of 25 is pathetic in the extreme.  I've actually seen a guy, who was more than old enough to know better, show up to a shortlisted job interview at the corporate office, wearing a Roadrunner necktie, when the instructions that were sent out had specified clearly "business formal."  Other men, who clearly are without a clue, will unwittingly wear novelty ties to weddings, which happened when my wife and I were married.  

For God's sake, guys, show a little sophistication.  It's ok.  Really.  Go get yourself a selection of five or six real neckties of various patterns in silk and wool.  They are easily and cheaply found at most thriftshops if money is an issue.  By the way, I'd also suggest wearing a tie whenever you have on a sports jacket.  It just completes your overall look.  And if you have on a suit?  You should always wear a necktie with it.  Wearing a suit without a tie just makes it look like you don't know any better.


6) Place Cards
If these are on the various tables at the semi-formal or formal event to which you've been invited, please don't start moving them around before taking your seats.  Chances are that your hosts have gone to considerable trouble to plan the event and put certain people together.  Why, you might ask? 

For starters, they wish to ensure that people like business contacts, family, friends, and old acquaintances have the chance to visit.  It's also highly likely that your hosts want to incorporate more distant family members, newer friends, and acquaintances seamlessly into the social activities and mealtime conversation that naturally occur at semi-formal and formal events.  So, don't touch those place cards if you'd be so kind.

What if you are seated next to someone you don't like, or who seems a bit ponderous?  Well, don't be rude and ignore them.  Show some grace and attempt to engage that person, including him or her in the general conversation around the table.  They'll long remember how warm and gracious you were to them, which ain't necessarily a bad thing.


7) Dining
Remember your table manners at semi-formal and formal events.  I've written numerous times here at The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style about the importance of table manners, and it's no different at wedding receptions or other organized events where there might be a sit-down meal, or at least hors d'oeuvres.  

I'll spare you the grand list of do's and don't's here, but those who are interested might like to review an earlier post on table manners from last year.  Suffice to say, you should make certain that you don't commit any social blunders during the meal or while nibbling finger foods.  So, be aware of what you are doing, and how you might look or sound to those around you, who are trying to enjoy their food.  If you gobble, slurp, and burp your way through a meal, or a paper plate of Dim Sum while standing in a group, trust me, it will turn off those unlucky enough to be near you in a hurry.  Ick!

Here's a good rule of thumb to keep in mind.  If there is any question in your mind about whether or not something you are about to do might possibly offend those around you, don't do it.  Know what I mean, Sherlock?  Finally, when serving yourself, take smaller portions rather than heap piles of food onto your plate.  Gluttony isn't pretty, and you can always come back for seconds if you are that ravenous.


8) Alcohol
As far as social occasions of any kind are concerned, nothing is more obnoxious, and potentially more embarrassing than a guest who drinks too much, becomes louder as the evening continues, and is potentially combative if and when someone else asks that person to rein in his bad behavior.  The possibility of public sickness also rears its ugly head in cases like this.  And no one, absolutely no one, should have to witness that.  It should, therefore, go without saying that you do not want to be that person.  

So, pay attention to your alcohol consumption, and it might be a sound idea to go much lighter with it than is usually be the case.  You aren't a street drunk or a college freshman off the leash for the first time after all.  Demonstrate instead that you are an adult, who can handle himself, and show consideration to your hosts as well as fellow guests, Tiberius Vomitus Maximus.  Presumably, since you are reading a blog like The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style, you want to be something more than a terminally childish "dudebro" or "lad."  So, in no way should you allow yourself to become a sad, disgusting spectacle where alcohol is concerned.  

Self control is the name of the game here.  And if you absolutely must have a glass of something sparkling in your hand to feel at ease, ask the bartender for club soda over ice.  No one will know you aren't drinking something with booze in it unless you spill the beans and tell them.


9) Children
Unless they have been specifically mentioned on an invitation, it's a better idea to get a sitter and leave the little darlings at home.  Or simply send your regrets.  It's unfair to your hosts, and exceedingly presumptuous on your part, to turn up with kids in tow when they have not been invited.  I'll repeat myself here.  Do not call your hosts and ask if you may bring children when they have not been mentioned specifically on the invitation.  

Contrary to what the Madeline Bassetts of the world and their mothers might think, and the two are legion, it is neither cute, nor funny to have a screaming tantrum unleashed in the middle of a wedding service, reception, dinner party, or, indeed, any other carefully planned and organized social event.  Sadly, that kind of behavior isn't limited just to the toddler and preschool set either.  Moreover, lots of people find children who have been excused from the table, yet continue to hover around or below it, obnoxious in the extreme.  This odd phenomenon seems to be especially prevalent in the United States, Land of Permissive Parenting, but I've occasionally noticed it elsewhere too.  

And you not-yet-but-soon-to-be-married guys? Think long and hard before you agree to include any pre-school flower girls and ring bearers in your wedding parties.  Don't be afraid to say "No" firmly and stick to your guns.  There is a reason why, not all that long ago, children were rarely, if ever, included in adult gatherings.  

Sadly, that distinction seems to have disappeared during the last 25-30 years, but I suggest strongly that we work hard to reintroduce the practice.  An informal church or temple picnic, a backyard family gathering in the summer, or a birthday party specifically for Junior and his fellow second graders is one thing.  But a wedding, country club, or corporate event, as well as a more adult sit-down dinner at home with two or three other couples in attendance, is something else entirely.  And you know what?  It ain't going to kill the kids not to be included in absolutely every activity to which Mom and Dad have been invited.


10) Don't Wear Out Your Welcome
The number of people who don't seem to get this point is astounding.  Of course, you don't want to rush out after only 25 or 30 minutes, which might seem to be extremely rude.  On the other hand, it's difficult to specify a precise length of time one should remain in attendance at an organized gathering.  

That said, I'd suggest somewhere between ninety minutes and three hours, depending on the type of event, occasion, and how well you might know your hosts or the honorees.  But, you absolutely do not want to be the last people to leave at 12:45am, hours and hours after the event began.  We once had a small dinner party several years ago, during which one particular couple clearly enjoyed themselves.  Naturally, they were not the most exciting conversationalists, and it was almost 1am before they finally said their loooooong goodbye and mercifully left, quite some time after everyone else. 

Fine, but what's your point, Heinz-Ulrich?  Here you go.  Even if you are having a really nice time, it's always better to leave your hosts wanting to see more of you rather than less.  Be sensitive to this fact, and once a few other guests take their leave, it's safe for you to do so too.  You don't need to engage in the dreaded American Midwestern Goodbye, or its close cousin The Welsh Goodbye either.  In other words, don't spend 90 minutes on your feet in the doorway taking your leave.  A quick, "Thanks so much for including us this evening!  We had a lovely time and will be in touch soon," will do just fine.  Collect your overcoats from the coat check room, or the hall closet, and leave already!


There you have it.  Without a doubt, there are other polite social conventions you'll want to learn about and practice as you work to kick up your everyday style a few notches, but these ten points are a good place to begin and will serve you well.  If I've neglected to include any additional and key social niceties here, please be so good as to leave a comment and enlighten us.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

11 comments:

Jason said...

Very useful reminders, thank you for sharing. I actually found some novelty ties recently in my wardrobe, thankfully gifts received over the years and never actually worn. As a 42 year old I decided they would be better moving out of the wardrobe!

Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke said...

It's never too late! Thanks for your comment, Jason. Much appreciated. Please continue to drop by.

Best Regards,

Heinz-Ulrich von B.

Anonymous said...


Re ties - I recently did a gay divorce. I was a acting for a v flaboyant man. We had a court hearing so I said no make up, no jewellery, a conservative suit and tie. He turns up to court with my barrister dressed in a black suit and black shirt but with a bright yellow silk tie with a split red heart in the middle which had a bolt of lightening through it. To top it off he was carry a cane with a silver top like Fred Astaire.

Regards,
Guy

Der Alte Fritz said...

You can never go wrong wearing a jacket and tie, as my Dad always said, as you can always remove the tie and/ or the jacket. But if you show up without one and everyone else is wearing coat and tie, you can't magically conjure one up. So it is easier to dress down if necessary than it is the reverse.

Anonymous said...

I agree! There was a famous advert on the TV about 20 years ago for cigars. ( That shows how old it was as they are now banned here now). The man turns up in a chicken outfit for a fancy dress party and makes the grand sudden entrance to what turns out to be a black tie cocktail party. Cue sudden silence with everyone staring as in a Bateman cartoon. The advert then cuts to the well known music and the poor chap smoking his cigar in consolation.

Regards,
Guy

Mark Hollingsworth said...

Great post - well done. I came across a site recently belonging to a business teaching manners and etiquette - http://blog.theenglishmanner.com/. The company, The English Manner, has an international list of clients, many from Africa, India and the Far East rather than North America - and several classes for young teenagers from these countries.
If you are in doubt of the importance of manners this should be a wake up call to us - the emerging new economies see them as huge and worthy of financial investment. We ignore or neglect them at our peril!
Mark

Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke said...

Thank you for your comments, everyone!

It's mind-boggling the number of people, of all ages, who seem to lack the most basic of grooming and social graces that I always took for granted as a child and young person. What have we come to as a society? Surely, it's not the End of Days, but there is a real for basic instruction and guidance on much of this stuff since so few young people seem to get that anymore. Clearly, Mark, from your comment, good manners and pleasant social skills are more important in our era of globalization than ever was before.

Best Regards,

Heinz-Ulrich von B.

Richard Conlan said...

A great post, as usual. However, I would be careful using the terms "formal" and "semi-formal" the way you have here. Those terms used to mean "white tie" and "black tie," respectively. Today, the commonly accepted definitions seem to have shifted to "black tie" and "dark suit." But even for an average guy, showing up in a sportcoat to a "semi-formal" event could be a major faux pas.

Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke said...

Thank you, Richard! Duly noted. My thinking at the time was that many people seem to consider the standard lounge suit virtually "formal" wear these days since black tie and white tie have no bearing in their lives (sadly). . . at least not for most of us here in the United States. Please continue to drop by occasionally and leave a comment or two.

Best Regards,

Heinz-Ulrich von B.

Anonymous said...

Heinz,
As I have only recently discovered your website it is rapidly becoming a favorite. This is another great post and I am in full agreement with every post I have read (It seems we have similar values). Incidentally I went Christmas shopping with my family today and I wore the following:

Levis 501 dark jeans
Red Polo cotton sweater (thrifted)
Brooks Brothers red gingham cotton shirt (thrifted)
Nautica navy blue wool blend sport coat (thrifted)
Banana Republic brown chukka boots (thrifted)
GRINCH BLUE AND GREEN PATTERN SILK (thrifted)

I really detest those novelty ties but this looked pretty cool. Smile..........

Dr.CSP


John Monti said...

I love the posting. I buy Novelty Neckties cause there's plenty of sites I search on Google that have Neckties on sale