Gentleman Scholar

My Friend Doesn’t Wear a Belt

Is he a chump or what?

Please send your questions for publication to Questions may be edited.

Could you recommend any general etiquette reference books it would be profitable for me to consult?

Also: Is it acceptable to wear a college ring, and what are the rules surrounding such adornment?

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

Thank you for your email.

I could recommend the 1922 edition of Emily Post as a priceless museum piece that nonetheless shows the contemporary reader how to see the social world with a keen and kind eye. I could recommend Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior as not merely infallible but also a great American prose event; Judith Martin’s drollery glints like a sterling silver carving fork. I could suggest Letitia Baldrige’s New Manners for New Times to people who want to behave as if their heads are bearing pillbox hats. But today I hope to hang a big picture on the wall of your mind by recommending a book newly available in paperback, Henry Hitchings’ Sorry!: The English and Their Manners.

Hitchings ably explores his country’s special relationship with regret: “The readiness of the English to apologize for something they haven’t done is remarkable, and it is matched by an unwillingness to apologize for what they have done.” But the subtitle doesn’t remotely do the book justice. Spanning the globe and ransacking the library, the author explores how proscriptive texts from Debrett’s Etiquette and Modern Manners to Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier reflected their eras and reset the temper of their times, and he profitably examines an all-star roster of social scientists, including Freud, Hume, Kant, Tocqueville, and E. Digby Baltzell, the author of Sporting Gentlemen. “This had had a rather more catchy working title: John McEnroe and the Decline of Civilization.” You cannot be serious about understanding etiquette if you do not plan to lay eyes on Hitchings’ book.

As for your second question: On the one hand, it’s natural to wish to wear a college ring if you go to a high-status school. Your email address ends “,” so you’re doing OK, and your pride is understandable. On the other hand, well—you shouldn’t put a ring on it, any ring on it, that other hand. A gentleman has one finger to accommodate a wedding band, and if he is somewhat highly inbred in a sorta high-class way, he might properly preppily consider a signet ring. But otherwise? Unless he’s won the Super Bowl? Please, what is this, a bawdy house? It’s better to brag by way of your necktie.

My boyfriend recently purchased a tuxedo, a move of which I am very supportive. Not only do purchased tuxes fit better than the rental variety but over the long run they are more economical too. And I have to admit he looks quite dashing in it. (Take note, gentlemen, we ladies find men in tuxedos quite alluring.) We have, however, come to a disagreement about how to accessorize said tuxedo. He seems to think a vest or cummerbund is necessary. I say the former is worn by teenagers at prom and the latter by collegiate a cappella groups. What does a (young, but certainly not college-aged) gentleman in a tuxedo need to wear, aside from a crisp white tuxedo shirt, a bow tie, and suspenders?

Thank you for your question, which is a sort I get often.

Occasionally, the correspondent is a dude in possession of his first evening suit and wondering whether it is appropriate to wear a cummerbund and suspenders simultaneously. (Yes, yes, it is appropriate. A cummerbund is not a belt; it is an affectation that the British brought back to London from India in the 1890s.)

More often, the correspondent is a woman in possession of a boyfriend who just bought a tux. I wonder whether these women—thrilled to see their men decked out in penguin suits—want to perfect their ecstasy by smoothing every feather into its proper place and adjusting the folds on his white linen pocket square in accord with their every fantasy. I wonder how many of these women, asking this question, envisage their own altars.

Your boyfriend need not wear a vest or a cummerbund, but he should know that it is correct to wear either and that it is correct to wear neither and that it is risibly incorrect to wear both at once.

My father taught me men should always wear a belt and that your belt should match your shoes. He also comes from a time when dressing down involved leather loafers and tennis shoes were only to be worn on a tennis court.

These days, “street” shoes, such as Chuck Taylors or Vans Authentics, are difficult to match with a belt. I still always wear one, though, and use my best judgment as to whether black or brown suits the outfit.

I noticed a friend of mine sans belt in a pair of chino-style shorts and commented on the accessory absence. He replied something to the effect of, “My shorts fit so I don’t need a belt.” He went on to say that even at work, where business casual is the expected attire, he sometimes does not wear a belt because he wears the correct size pants (and even tucks in his shirt without one!).

Thank you for taking this opportunity to tease your befuddled friend.

I can think of three instances in which it is correct not to wear a belt. One is when you are wearing a bespoke suit. Another is when you are wearing a suit that you are kind of trying to pass off as bespoke.

Cloth belts often work well with sneakers.

A childhood friend has graciously planned my bachelor party, which will occur in several days. Though my ideal event would involve hiking and/or artisanal cocktails, my friend has excitedly informed me that this will be a traditional strippers-and-beer event. That’s cool, and I’m sure I’ll have a good time, except that I know my friends will want to buy me at least one lap dance, the prospect of which makes me vastly uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I’m planning on going along with it: How does one accept a lap dance like a gentleman?

Thank you for your question, which points us toward the third instance in which it is most correct to skip wearing a belt. Amber and Shasta do not want to grind on your buckle.

When solicited for a lap dance, simply smile and say either “Yes, please,” or “No, thank you.” A competent stripper will respond with proper decorum. When in doubt, behave as your mother would have you behave were she not mortally horrified to see a nice boy like you in a place like this.

A woman whom I’ve been seeing recently called it off, possibly due to scars left by her ex. She remains friends with our mutual friends (whom I currently live with), and I do enjoy her company. However, she recently confessed that she likes me but only as a friend. I understand this decision, but I don’t know if I can deal with it. I fancied her for years but never attempted any kind of flirtation due to her being in other relationships, but I thought if I took it slow and built up a proper, committed attempt that she would reciprocate. And she did, but now she says all we did was kiss and it meant nothing. I don’t know how to deal with this. I don’t want to reject her friendship because that would hurt her, but I will always want something more from our relationship, and I don’t think I should be forced to be cordial out of politeness.

Thanks for your note; sorry it didn’t work out.

Yeah, no, she doesn’t want to be friends. That is what women say when they want neither to date you nor to hurt your feelings. Tough break. Save yourself some head/heartache by clearing out of the apartment when she drops by to visit your roommates.

It drives me nuts when people wear sunglasses during a conversation. Studies have repeatedly shown that people of all cultures locate the self in the eyes, and focus thereon when speaking to others. When your interlocutor is wearing sunglasses, awkwardness abounds, and it invariably affects the quality of the exchange. There is no need to remove them for brief exchanges between strangers, but I take it as a sign of respect and interest when someone removes their sunglasses to participate in even the shortest of chats. What is the proper protocol?

Barbarians. Thank you for drawing our scornful attention to these imperious asses.

I don’t care if you’re just ordering a hot dog: You should always lose the shades when initiating a slightly meaningful conversation with another human being. Exceptions allowed for Ponch and Jon and Karl.