As a pre-housing warming gift, Juliette gave me a vintage copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette (photographed above in my apartment). What a treasure! I put on a kettle of water for tea and read this guide as if it were a novel. Much like language, proper etiquette is constantly evolving. Gone are the days of calling cards and debutantes. While Emily Post’s tips are largely antiquated and often sexist, the spirit behind them is surprisingly democratic and American. Emily genuinely believed good manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use. After reading Etiquette, Emily Post is no longer a stiff, overly proper relic of the past for me. Instead, I was left with a witty, timeless voice advocating for compassionate consideration of others and the desire to strive for beauty in everyday life. It certainly merits the place of honor on my coffee table. After all, Etiquette is also full of good laughs, like the passage below:
| How many times has one heard some one say: “I won’t dress for dinner—no one is coming in.” Or, “That old dress will do!” Old clothes! No manners! And what is the result? One wife more wonders why her husband neglects her! Curious how the habit of careless manners and the habit of old clothes go together. If you doubt it, put the question to yourself: “Who could possibly have the manners of a queen in a gray flannel wrapper? And how many women really lovely and good—especially good—commit esthetic suicide by letting themselves slide down to where they “feel natural” in an old gray flannel wrapper, not only actually but mentally.
| The woman of charm in “company” is the woman of fastidiousness at home; she who dresses for her children and “prinks” for her husband’s home-coming, is sure to greet them with greater charm than she who thinks whatever she happens to have on is “good enough.” Any old thing good enough for those she loves most! Think of it!
| A certain very lovely lady whose husband is quite as much her lover as in the days of his courtship, has never in twenty years allowed him to watch the progress of her toilet, because of her determination never to let him see her except at her prettiest. Needless to say, he never meets anything but “prettiest” manners either. No matter how “out of sorts” she may be feeling, his key in the door is a signal for her to “put aside everything that is annoying or depressing,” with the result that wild horses couldn’t drag his attention from her—all because neither she nor he has ever slumped into the gray flannel wrapper habit.
(This photo is from Juliette’s Still Lives of Books series which can be found here. I highly recommend checking it out.)