Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 25 June 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. The new fashion of women wearing pants (sic) that do not fit properly and reveal their underwear is in full flight here. There is no hope for the young, who will slavishly follow whatever is in fashion, regardless of how stupid it looks. However, we have a friend in her late thirties or early forties. She is still quite an attractive women for her age, but not so attractive that she should be wearing these sorts of things. What can we say to her, without appearing to be perverts or fuddy-duddies, to stop her wearing her pants so that her g-string underpants and the top part of her buttocks are showing to all and sundry?

M. and K.M., Queensland, Australia

A. One school of thought holds that people’s sartorial lapses should be welcomed, not suppressed. In an age where cosmetic surgery is impeding full communication, they offer vital non-verbal clues to compatibility. However it might be kinder to draw your friend’s attention to the fact that her thongs, or g-string underpants as you call them, are not flattering. Do this by soliciting an opinion — which you can be confident will be approving — from an elderly and unattractive satyr in your network.

Let’s call the satyr Les Patterson. Then you can tell your friend honestly, ‘By the way, you’ve got a fan in Les Patterson. He always defends you.’
‘What do you mean he always defends me?’ she will naturally respond. ‘Defends me over what?’
‘Oh you know,’ you can smile pleasantly, ‘when fuddy-duddies and perverts are saying you shouldn’t be wearing thongs and having your buttocks on show at your age, Les always says he thinks you look really raunchy and up for it. He thinks it’s great that you have the nerve to dress like that. He’s a really big fan.’
This good review from such an unwelcome source should be sufficient to re-educate your friend.

Q. I recently attended a dinner party of about a dozen in a household where the custom persists of evacuating the women at the conclusion of the meal to the drawing-room, leaving the men to focus on anecdote and port. Three of these guests were circuit high court judges, one of whom was female. When the time came for our hostess to signal imminent departure, the female judge indicated by her demeanour that she regarded herself, anyway for these purposes, as an ex officio male. Our hostess was presented with a dilemma to which there appear to be three optional solutions. 1) coerce the female judge to join the ladies; 2) remove the ladies, leaving the female judge behind; 3) abandon the custom on that occasion. She adopted the first option, which was accomplished — but with palpable awkwardness. Do you think she was right?

E.D.G., Lostwithiel, Cornwall

A. Female truculence when confronted with this quaint and harmless custom is fairly passé now that the supremacy of the sexes has been almost fully reversed. Nevertheless, your hostess was faced with a delicate situation, and one which also arises when senior female politicians are involved. Unless there has been prior negotiation, the ‘Staff Solution’, as they say in the military world, must be to abandon the programme on that evening — although this option need not be considered a precedent.