QUESTION: Is there a dress code for the dinner table — at home? It seems to me that I should be able to wear what I want to when my mother calls me to the table (I am 16). But if I have on a tank top and cutoffs and generally look too casual, she will send me upstairs to change into something more appropriate. What gives?
CALLLIE'S ANSWER: I can see this being frustrating, although I don't know what you think is appropriate and what your mom thinks is inappropriate. At my house, we are very casual, wearing what we have on or had on through the day. That said, I would say listen to your mom — there is no need to start a fight about something so small.
LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: More than likely, your mother is the one cooking dinner and providing a home for you to live in. It isn't easy to plan meals and cook dinner every night for a family, and she is probably asking of you the same respect that you would show at others' homes or at a restaurant. Meals are a production, no matter how thrown together, and they offer a good chance for family members to connect; at 16, I would imagine that you are scattered more often these days than you used to be.
Try showing up to a meal dressed like she would want you to be and with an attitude of thankfulness that you have the time together and a mom who is cooking for you. I may be reading more into this issue than she intends, but if you are sincere in thinking about it from her point of view, perhaps she'll loosen up from time to time and think about the strict dress code from your angle. At 16, you are the child, even for not much longer, and she is the adult. You'll have plenty of time soon enough to sit at your own table dressed how you want, but, then again, you'll be making your own meals and spending your own money on food. Which would you prefer?
HELEN'S ANSWER: It is respectful to your family to look your best. The dinner table is a place where your family meets, hopefully for a good dinner, and usually good table settings. The cook has gone to some trouble to see that you have food. It makes sense to me to honor that.
Home is the very best place to learn manners at the table and an important one is how you look.
GUEST'S ANSWER: Hilarie Blaney, etiquette and international protocol consultant: The answer is “yes,” and I applaud your mother for making the effort to teach you these things while she has the opportunity.
My siblings and I still laugh about our mother delivering her “dinner speech” when we announced we didn't like something she was serving.
It went like this, “I am required by law to serve you healthy food, and you must eat it.” We believed her and quickly realized that she was our teacher and life coach and not our pal. It was her job to see that we became responsible adults that would raise additional responsible adults someday.
I would rid myself of all tank tops and wear at the table a decent shirt and shorts, not cutoffs, and of course, shoes.
You will be older a lot longer than you are younger and the opportunity to observe the results of her advice will be clear. Buy the book “How to Live Like a Gentleman: Lessons in Life, Manners and Style” at the new Anthropologie store.
Lastly, experience is worth more than advice, and your mom is trying to give you a lifelong gift and one that your spouse will appreciate some day!
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