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Editorial Etiquette 

An entire week with no questions about wedding invitations!

Wednesday, Jul 7 2004
Dear Social Grace,

What is the proper way to acknowledge someone in a group photograph who has passed away since the photo was taken? We are publishing a photo of some volunteers in our charity's bimonthly newsletter, but we're not sure about the right way to recognize this person, whom I'll call "Mary O'Brien": "Mary O'Brien (deceased)"? Or should we list her name with a footnote and say that she is deceased at the bottom? Or would it be appropriate to do even more, such as, "In memory of Mary O'Brien, who passed away on [date]"?

Thanks for your advice,
"Editor in Chief"

Dear Editorial Madam or Sir,

I'm sorry to hear your sad news. But as sad as your situation is, I must thank you for inviting me to weigh in on a question that neither my favorite etiquette books nor The Chicago Manual of Style answers completely. It's satisfying to be able to tread new etiquette ground.

I think we journalists can agree that a death announcement should not be treated as a caption of a group photograph: It's too important. So if you want to memorialize Mary O'Brien in your newsletter, or if you feel that you should announce her death, do so in a separate piece, even a very short one -- perhaps on the same page as the group photograph. If, however, you are neither reporting her demise nor memorializing her, her death should be mentioned only insofar as it is germane to the story.

For example, if the group photo accompanies an article about the people involved, the fact that one person pictured has died could perhaps be included there. Something like this: "One of the many people who participated in our food drive was longtime volunteer Mary O'Brien, who died on May 17. Her loss will be deeply felt. Our organization's thoughts are with her family and loved ones." Even if the caption is the whole story, a simple explanation such as this might still be your best bet.

But if you are merely showing a group photograph and providing a list of names, you don't need to give Mary O'Brien any special consideration. One further exception would be if you are showing an old photograph and reporting the whereabouts of everyone: "John Jones (who has recently moved to Gulf Breeze, Fla., with his wife, Ellen), Betsy Chun (who joined the Peace Corps after closing her law office and is now working in Mali), and Mary O'Brien (who was the conductor of the Philadelphia Symphony when she died in 1998)."

Dear Social Grace,

This is a topic I have not seen addressed in your column previously -- and I would like your guidance in handling it.

I work in the corporate offices of a local bank. Since we are not in a facility visited by the clientele of the bank, we are permitted a "business casual" dress code. Admittedly, I am delighted by the choice to wear khakis or nice cotton slacks rather than a skirt suit or dress every day; but on those days when I do wear a skirt, or open-toed shoes, I always wear stockings.

It is not that I think my bare legs would offend. But I feel that baring one's legs in an office environment is unprofessional. (Many of my co-workers do not seem to feel this way, judging by the number of sockless, mule-clad feet present each day). You do not, for instance, see the men in the office wearing Birkenstocks, nor do they wear "deck shoes" without socks.

How do I handle the curious and sometimes disparaging remarks made by my co-workers without insulting their sense of professional dress, since I seem to be in the minority on this subject?

Thank you,

Young But Old-Fashioned
Dear Old-Fashioned Madam,

More new ground for Social Grace: Bless you, readers, for the brief respite from your many questions about wedding invitations.

Men and women dress differently -- that's a simple fact, so we'll just take open-toed shoes for men and toss them right out of my office, thank you very much. Now, a woman's bare leg is no longer out of the question in a normal office environment, even most formal ones. However, your stockings are by no means out of the question, either.

I won't step too far into the realm of fashion here, but I'll say that, as far as etiquette is concerned, you and your stockings are perfectly polite, if perhaps a bit unusual. Style experts have stronger negative opinions: I am obliged to tell you that there are plenty who say that wearing pantyhose with open-backed or open-toed shoes is a definite fashion no-no, and that if you do wear hosiery it should be very sheer or "nude," without a reinforced toe.

You might consider speaking to someone about creating and distributing an official definition of "business casual" at your office (this is generally a good idea in many work environments). But the more important question here involves dealing with the inappropriate comments and questions of rude co-workers. Your options are these:

1) Silence (accompanied by a level stare) is one of my favorite responses to such comments. It gets your point across, ends the interaction, and helps you keep your dignity.

2) Saying something like, "I'm sure you didn't mean any harm, but your comments about my attire could be taken as an insult. Perhaps we should change the subject."

3) Asking a manager to speak to specific co-workers and, without naming names, remind them that comments about a colleague's appearance are, if not illegal, at least inappropriate.

Dear Social Grace,

I'm throwing a wedding rehearsal dinner for my son's upcoming nuptials and wondered what type of toast is correct, or is there anything I'm expected to say that would be appropriate?


Dear Joe,

Since you're the host, the first toast would be your privilege and obligation. The good news is that in most toasting situations, brevity is an appreciated (and highly underrated) attribute. And at a rehearsal dinner, specifically, many other people will probably be making toasts, so you can quite properly keep yours short and to the point. If public speaking isn't something you enjoy, don't worry about having to wax too poetic.

It's often customary for the groom's father to offer a simple toast to the bride's parents at the rehearsal dinner -- for instance: "I would like you to join me in toasting Joanna's parents, Matt and Christina Drayton, two wonderful people we are honored to welcome into our family." Thereafter (or instead of that toast, if it isn't appropriate for your situation), you can propose a toast that follows this format: Compliment your future daughter-in-law, welcome her into your family, and wish the new couple happiness.

About The Author

Social Grace


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