MISS MANNERS

When black tie looks dirty

Updated: 2014-01-02T00:04:02Z

By JUDITH MARTIN

Universal Uclick

DEAR MISS MANNERS: You once described men wearing wing collars with black tie as appearing to have dirty necks. For two decades now, I have been quietly seething at the seemingly ubiquitous choice to provide just such an appearance as a misguided fashion statement.

Would you please do what you can to return us to the days when wing collars would never be worn with dinner clothes?

GENTLE READER: Would you settle for better days, rather than the old days? The sad fact is that black tie was invented in the late 19th century, before there was a shirt to go with it. Perplexed gentlemen, eager to try the new, informal way of dressing in the evening, were staring into their closets trying to think whether to choose a daytime shirt, or a wing-collared one, such as they wore with their more formal tailcoats. They went with the latter.

It was not until the 1920s that the then-Duke of Windsor invented a softer shirt with a pleated front specifically to go with the dinner jacket. So there is historical precedent for wearing a wing-collared shirt for black tie. It just doesn’t look very good.

Thank-you amends

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Let me begin with the worst of it (Miss Manners would be advised to brace herself). I am 20 and have not written thank-you notes for holidays and birthdays for about two years now.

I’d like to make amends with my family members who sent me nice gifts that I didn’t thank them properly for, but I’m not exactly sure what the right course of action is at this point. Do I just send out thank-yous for the gifts I received this year and try not to draw explicit attention to how remiss I have been in my correspondence? Can I apologize for not sending thank-you notes in the past?

I’d like to acknowledge what they sent me before, but I’m sure I’ve forgotten some of the things I’ve received (which is horrible), and I don’t want to make it sound like I’m ungrateful by omitting them. I also don’t want to make it sound like I’m asking for gifts in the future or try to furnish excuses (I don’t have any).

I really just want to apologize, express my gratitude and move on, but I’m struggling to figure out how to do that.

GENTLE READER: You are not the worst. The worst are ingrates who, far from being repentant, try to cast blame on their benefactors for being so selfish as to expect any response to their generosity. In fact, your relatives have been especially generous in continuing to send you presents in the absence of responses.

Still, your record is pretty bad, and Miss Manners is gratified that you are ready to make amends. You are, she presumes, prepared to grovel.

Your letters should begin with enthusiastic thanks for the latest presents, and then go into high praise for their past kindness. For the past presents that you can recall, write specifically about how you have been enjoying them all this time.

Then comes the self-flagellation. The important part is to refrain from offering any excuses. Claiming to have been busy, even with examples of the demands upon you, only annoys people. It prompts them to reflect that they, too, were busy, but made time to send you presents.

Rather, it should be all about how ashamed you are not to have acknowledged their warmth and consideration, which means so much to you. Miss Manners understands that this seems a grim task. But she promises that you will feel better afterward.

© Universal Uclick 12/31

Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com, or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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