10 Questionable Pieces of Advice from Emily Post

Emily Post.
Emily Post. / Brooklyn Museum, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

For decades, Emily Post’s etiquette guides have given high-society people the rundown on how to behave. Her book Etiquette, first published in 1922 and revised and republished several times since, is a trove of helpful—and, admittedly, antiquated—tidbits on how to act in a whole host of scenarios. Here are 10 curious tips and admonitions.

1. Don’t put too much butter on your corn on the cob.

According to Post, corn on the cob should never be served at a dinner party. When you are able to tuck into this summer staple, Post advised: “To attack corn on the cob with as little ferocity as possible is perhaps the only direction to be given, and the only maxim to bear in mind when eating this pleasant-to-taste but not-very-easy-to-manage vegetable is to eat it as neatly as possible…The real thing to avoid is too much buttering all at once and too greedy eating.”

2. A woman should never dress better than her date.

Post had some strong opinions on how a woman should dress. Whether traveling, enjoying a dinner out, or going on a date, she cautioned against choosing an over-the-top outfit. As Post suggested: “It is always better to be under- than over-dressed. Should she discover that her date is dressed for bowling while she thought they were going to a cocktail party, she should excuse herself for ten minutes - no more! - while she hastily changes into something more casual.”

3. Engaged men must not let their eyes wander.

Don't do this.
Don't do this. / skynesher/Getty Images

“It is unnecessary to say that an engaged man shows no marked interest in other women,” Post wrote. Engaged women, meanwhile, could continue socializing with men as long as they didn’t pay too much attention to any man in particular.

4. Don’t talk to strangers at weddings.

According to Post, if you’re a guest at a wedding, it’s ok to greet those you know: “At a wedding it is proper to smile and bow slightly to people you know - even to talk briefly in a very low voice to a friend sitting next to you.” Strangers, however, get the silent treatment: “When you find yourself among strangers, you just sit quietly until the processional starts.”

5. A woman must dance with every man who asks her—unless he's drunk.

Basically, trying to claim your dance card is full wouldn’t fly under Post’s rules: “To refuse to dance with one man and then immediately dance with another is an open affront to the first one – excusable only if he was intoxicated or otherwise offensive so that the affront was justified.”

6. Dress well if you have plans to meet the Pope.

Don’t greet the Pope wearing casual clothing. Men should wear “evening dress with white tie and tails or a uniform, and women wear long-sleeved, black dresses and veils over their heads.”

7. Women should learn how to split a check.

No one enjoys the hassle of splitting a check among a large group. As Post wrote: “When several women are dining out together the problem of the check is one that can cause concern to and confusion among the waiters, the nearby diners, and the women themselves. Women so seldom are able to separate a check into several parts with grace and speed that the cartoon of feminine heads clustered about the waiter's tab, captioned, 'Now let's see, Ethel, you had the Tomato Surprise,' is familiar to all of us.”

8. Always accept a glass of wine.

Cheers! / SolStock/Getty Image

Never turn down a glass of vino, if offered. As Post suggested: “If you do not wish wine, it is best – because least conspicuous - to allow a little to be poured into your glass. Unless your host happens to be looking at your glass when the wine is poured, he will not know later on that your almost empty glass was never filled. On the other hand, if he did happen to notice, he could not feel that much wine was wasted.”

9. Go easy on the eye makeup.

When you’re trying out your latest Sephora haul, it’s best to stick to a more neutral look. According to Post, “Heavily made up eyes belong only on the stage or in the chorus line.”

10. Keep your witty remarks to yourself.

If you’re trying to make friends, it’s best to keep the conversation genuine. As Post warned against wit: “In great danger of making enemies is the man or woman of brilliant wit. Sharp wit tends to produce a feeling of mistrust even while it stimulates. Furthermore, the applause that follows every witty sally becomes in time breath to the nostrils, and perfectly well-intentioned people who mean to say nothing unkind in the flash of a second 'see a point' and in the next second score it with no more power to resist than a drug addict has to refuse a dose put into his hand.”