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Good manners include good dressing habits

You've Got Manners

Posted: July 17, 2008 11:53 p.m.
Updated: September 18, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Dressing, being fashionable, wardrobe management - they all pose questions from time to time. Women deliberate over what to wear, when to wear it, how it looks and fits, how it makes them feel. Men pick it out, put it on and move along.

Now the question is, can a catchphrase like "appropriate dress" help us decide what to wear and when to wear it? Yes, anything we can draw upon to ease the process of choosing is a welcome assist. One helpful tip is called "good manner dressing."

Here are two useful rule-of-thumb guidelines for dressing your body:

First: Dress to honor you. That shows consideration and respect for self. Dress to look and be the best you can be, paying attention to who you are, and expressing that authentic self. In other words, if you are very artistic and creative, it's appropriate for you to show this flair in your clothing, your hair design, and your accessories.

If you are a traditional sort of person, perhaps in an established professional field such as accounting, finance, law or medicine, your look would be more classic, conservative, quality-driven, and would reflect who you are and what you do. That said, dress for your core, authentic self first.

Second: Adjust to the occasion. Adapt your look to honor the person, (or people) and place, you will be engaging with. This is a show of respectful manners for the other person. Paying attention to context will help tremendously in answering the question - "What should I wear?"

As an example, if you are that creative, artistic or sensual type and are going to a religious ceremony, you might tone down your fashion message a bit - leave any skin-revealing garments home, and avoid the roughly-torn fashion jeans look. Be artistic yet modest at the same time.

The accountant going to a disco may select a very traditional outfit, but may add some splashy color, roll up his sleeves to a ¾ length, and open the collar of his shirt one button further than normal.

You want to feel good when you walk into a room or situation, and being in sync with the people and the tempo is essential to that end result.

Dear Louise:
For a party, how do you clarify "dress" for the event? If you say "dressy casual" that can be something different to each person, from jeans with a dressy top to something you never would wear to the office.
I had this happen with a volunteer organization during the holidays. The invitation said "dressy attire." I came in a slinky not too dressy short cocktail dress. There were a few others like me but most of the woman and most men had on their "volunteer attire," polo shirts and slacks. Is there a new etiquette for this type of organization?
- Fashionably Stumped

Dear Fashionably:
Let's dissect the words. You read the invitation correctly - "dressy" means something more than what is worn to the office or to work. The dress you selected in a slinky or fluid fabric is just that - NOT work based. The "casual" in dressy-casual means a less than formal, and a step up from day-to-day casual, so the fabrics could have some texture, more body, and with a few glitzy trims. Keeping accessories more casually fun and party-ish would be consistent also.

If there is any dress code doubt among a club or office group, it could be helpful (and also create interesting conversation) to have a poster placed somewhere on the premises with a few sample photos or sketches of appropriate attire for the occasion. The invitation can also add phrases like "This is our time to celebrate - shed the work attire." When you know you read the invitation correctly, stand proud and serve as a good example to others of what dressing according to the party-personality looks like.

Dear Louise:
I was thinking the other day about how in our youth, or at least mine, we spend so much time wanting to look and dress older. Then I hit 40 and started thinking how much I wanted to look younger. Can you help define "age-appropriate" dressing for someone who is in their 40s? Is it possible to mix in clothing from those "Forever 21" stores with our wardrobes?
- Older But Young

Dear Older But Young:
You pose an ongoing question ... one so often looming. The difference between younger and older dressing has to do with "exaggeration."

The very young set takes trends to the limit - heels are extreme and higher, prints are bolder, more of everything shows; so much is amplified. You can still look up-to-date, diva-ish, fashion forward, and adapt it to your age with modification.

Instead of very short skirts - show as much leg as you feel is worth showing ... maybe just above the knee instead of mid-thigh. Shoes can have current colors and pattern, but with less of an eccentric look.

Instead of lots of bare arms or low cleavage, modify sleeves and necklines by a few inches, or wear a trendy sheer blouse over a tank. Instead of a huge oversized handbag, buy one in proportion to your body size, and let the leather, skins, sassy color and ornamentation reflect what's "in" now.

By adding a lot of quality to your chic purchases, you will be giving a more mature message. Watch the trends in magazines, window displays, then shop in stores that cater to the 40 and over set. See how they've captured the newest look and adapted it to be appropriate to your age group.

Window shop in those younger, trendier stores to identify the mode of the day, and if you make a purchase, do it very selectively.

Overall, avoid any garments with the "M"-word look. Matronly is a category of long ago - not appropriate for anyone we know!

Louise Elerding, AICI, CIP, Personal Appearance Coach, is the author of "You've Got Manners!" a series of children's books on manners. For information on manners classes in the SCV, and to submit questions for the Ask Louise column, call 1-800-326-8953 or e-mail [email protected] The Web site is


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