When it comes to old movies, especially from the 1930s and ’40s, or new movies depicting the 1920s, I can’t get enough.
The clothes and the manners are the main attraction. What a contrast they are to today.
I came across “Book of Etiquette, Volume 2” at an estate sale. Of course, I had to buy it. It was published in 1923. The author, Lillian Eichler, covers everything from the treatment of servants to how a bachelor should entertain.
Ms. Eichler devotes part of a chapter on the proper tipping of the hat. “The hat is raised whenever a gentleman offers a civility to a lady, whether she be friend or stranger,” she wrote. “The question of whether or not the hat should be removed in the elevator is perplexing.” She came to the conclusion that an elevator is much like a small room and “boasts a ceiling” so it should be considered a room and “the polite man will keep his head uncovered, especially if there are women in the elevator.”
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Can you imagine what Lillian would think of the guys who put on their ball caps in the morning and probably don’t take them off until they go to bed?
She would have her work cut out for her today because, not only does she berate any man who doesn’t raise his hat, she says it has to be done correctly. “While lifting the hat one should incline the head slightly and smile. But it must be remembered that the unmannerly habit of touching the hat, instead of lifting it is an indication of sheer laziness and lack of gallantry.” But she warns against getting carried away gents. “Profound and elaborate bows are old-fashioned and un-American.”
Now when I watch old movies and “Downton Abby,” I take note of how the men tip their hats. And I nearly laughed out loud the other day when I was going into Walgreen’s and met a young man coming out. He had on one of those knitted hats with the strings that look like braids hanging down. When I said “hi,” he took his “braids” and sort of flapped them at me. I decided that was his tip of the hat.
To say we, as a country, have become very casual would be an understatement. We’re a considerate lot. We do nice things for others and are basically courteous. But we have much, much room for improvement. Today books are written on “modern manners,” and they cover a lot of territory Lillian Eichler and Emily Post never dreamed of.
Now there is cell phone etiquette, divorce etiquette, blended family etiquette, same-sex marriage etiquette, transgender etiquette, post face lift etiquette, and the list goes on. The world has changed since the 1920s. Our casualness in everything from how we dine to how we dress, how we act and react has been on a down-hill slide.
Maybe some of the changes are good. For example, who wants to “dress for dinner” every night? But some are not so good. We still have respect for others, but we’re just so darned relaxed about it. Let’s face it. Regardless of what year this is, and how far we’ve come in many areas, one thing is for sure: We still have to be good to each other. And that starts with good manners.
Reach Bonnie Bing at firstname.lastname@example.org.