13 November 2007

Don't forget to write a 'thank you' note


With the holidays coming up... any thoughts on attire for Thanksgiving dinner/meeting the boyfriend's parents for the first time and/or a first trip to Christmas Mass with the aforementioned boyfriend's parents? My boyfriend claims he is likely to wear his admittedly boring uniform of khakis/button down shirt/sweater, possibly with a blazer, definitely without a tie. This is a no children zone, just his parents, his older sister and her husband and possibly some family friends. The setting is Weston, CT.

Weddings, funerals, interviews, functions where colleagues' wives will be in attendance, meeting the boyfriend's parents for the first time on a major holiday -- all of these special occasions require careful outfit premeditation.

And in some cases, for those whose wardrobes, regardless of venue, regularly veer toward the tarty, the sloppy, the inappropriate, the in-your-face political, or the just plain stupid, a healthy, take-one-for-the-team sense of compromise must also be closely considered.

Why?

It's simple. In these situations, the clothes you wear must not negatively distract from the good impression you're presumably hoping to make. No one's asking you to act like "the little woman," fake interest in 'Frontline' or laser-off your Dick Cheney neck tatt, but you have to understand, especially in the case of meeting your significant other's parents for the first time, how you carry yourself into and inside the family home is likely to remain in Mom and Dad's minds (especially Mom's) long after the initial introduction. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying your outfit will be the sole deciding factor in whether future conversations between parents and son conclude with a genuine "Please send _____ our love" or an obligatory, "Give _____ our best," but I am saying you don't want to jeopardize your chances of being in their good graces just so you could feel more "yourself" in your favorite slouchy low-rise jeans, UGG boots and Harajuku Lovers hoodie. If these are formal people who like to host a formal Thanksgiving dinner, dress accordingly (see below), drink accordingly (a glass of water in between every glass of wine/beer), act accordingly (no grabby grabbingtons under the table, to start) and please, please write a thank-you note as soon as you return home.

If you don't know what the implicit dress-code will be, ask. And then ask again when he's not playing 'Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.'

Dysfunction has a way of infiltrating every family dynamic around the holidays, so do everything in your power not to invite controversy with a potentially controversial look.

Outfit Guidelines:

(1) No casual cuts/fabrics -- even if they're your best $247 Sass & Bide trouser jeans or your most luxe $200 Juicy Couture velour track jacket, I can guarantee you a Mother who breaks out the good China for Thanksgiving dinner will only see jeans, sweatshirt and disrespect

(2) No cleavage -- not even a hint (no, no, no, no and no)

(3) No skirt/dress that hits higher than two inches above the knee -- remember, when you sit down for post-dinner Brandy on the heirloom divan, that hemline is gonna creep up an extra few inches and potentially give your in-laws-to-be a nice little "view" of the crotch of your control-top hose

(4) No sky-high stilettos -- believe me, if I'm saying put the vixen heels away, I really mean it. Statement heels have no place at a sit-down dinner among new family members in the suburbs.

Outfit Recommendations:
(1) Sweater dress, tights and flats
(2) High-necked blouse, trousers and Mary Janes
(3) Dressy sweater, wool skirt and low-heeled boots
(4) Basic shell, wool jacket, slim pants and flats
(5) Long-sleeved wrap dress in a muted color*, tights and round-toed pumps

*have your tailor sew up the bustline to just above where the "cleave" begins to form

45 comments:

my two cents said...

I disagree with almost everything in this post. Wear what you want, girl, don't let Johanna's overly conservative, conformist views dictate your outfit. If you want to wear jeans and heels, wear jeans and heels. If his parents like you, it'll be because they like *you* not your clothes.

and a thank you note is so old-fashioned. I've never heard of writing thank you notes between family members.

the only thing I agree wiht you about is the cleavage. no one needs to see that while they're eating dinner.

Anonymous said...

i love the outfits you recommended but they seem really dress for Thanksgiving dinner.

Anonymous said...

really "dressy" i mean

hmmm said...

i just don't agree with changing who you are when you're meeting people who should love you for your mind and the way you treat their son. clothes are nothing more than clothes - they don't change the person.

Anonymous said...

My two cents -

This girl isn't a family member yet. She's a guest. As a guest, she should send a thank you note when she is extended the courtesy of being included on a large family holiday meal or allowed to stay in someone's house overnight (or over a weekend.) A guest skipping the thank you note after enjoying those privileges is just plain rude.

m said...

She's just saying don't go to Thanksgiving dinner (in Connecticut, no less) looking skanky or under-dressed. If the dinner is formal, it would be rude to wear jeans. Isn't the rule of thumb to dress no better or worse than the host or hostess?

I'm sort of horrified that thank-you notes are considered old fashioned, even between family. I still send my relatives thank-yous for gifts, etc., and I'm 26. I think it's tacky to do otherwise. And sending a polite note to a boyfriend's parents (especially if it's the first time you've met) is simply a gesture of respect and good manners.

Anonymous said...

I agree with my two cents. I don't think a Thank You note is necessary if they have invited you to their family gathering. Ask if there is anything you can bring to dinner - like a dessert or a bottle of wine. An act of kindness like that shows your appreciation for the invite more so than a thank you card that will just be tossed in the trash. A "Thank You" after dinner or after your stay is more than acceptable.

Carissa said...

I'd add in wearing "fresh" makeup -pretty skin, little blush, light lip, and earth tones on the eyes. And light mascara (no Dior Show).

There's plenty of time to get more comfortable and show your jeans and heels side once you get to know the parents.

Absolutely disagree about not sending a thank you note: you would send a thank you note and either bring a dish or a nice hostess gift if you were invited over for dinner anywhere else (think going to a prof's house - sure, you might be friendly, but they are an authority figure). It's just the right thing to do.

brooke said...

Why would the girl have written Johanna to ask for advice if she know what she wanted to wear?

ay said...

I am not what anyone would consider conservative, but I do subscribe to something called manners and being respectful. If you are going to stay with someone or attend a dinner, take something such as flowers and always send a thank you. And if you are meeting your boyfriend's parents for the first time, no jeans better be in sight. I honestly will tell girls to not wear pants at all but opt for a dress or skirt. So, actually, Johanna is being quite liberal with her pant options she's provided. I wholeheartedly agree with everything she wrote as a basic minimum for meeting his family. Make a good first impression, show you care enough about them to be respectful, then wear all the jeans you want later. And always send thank yous.

Kate said...

I hope, hope, hope that My Two Cents and Anonymous 1:12 said what they said merely because they oppose everything J writes. Otherwise, you are terribly rude people.

First off, she didn't say to change who you are. It's about being appropriate for the venue and company. That's all. If she was going to the in-law's house to meet them on the Super Bowl, we would see a different response. But people, this is Christmas Mass. It's about respect and taste, not an obsessive need to defy "overly conservative, conformist views" (which are actually tasteful and helpful).

And second, a thank you note is not old-fashioned. It is a sign of - get this - gratitude. In this case, it would be gratitude to his family for opening their house to her on a special day. How kind they are to include her. That is what the thank you is. It is the same way that I send my grandmother a thank you note when she sends me five dollars. Because it is sweet and kind and I want to show my gratitude.

I can't help but imagine that you have some serious anger issues if you take serious offense to this post.

lemmonex said...

Thank you notes are clutch! Who are you people? Oh, I know...the kind that do not have any manners.

I am not conservative or old fashioned by any means, but sending thank you notes to grandmas/family members, boyfriends parents and after interviews is just what you do.

K said...

My Two Cents is dead wrong! Parents simply adore thank-you notes. Love them. It's proper manners to bring a host gift of some kind and then follow up with a thoughtful note, which should take all of five minutes to write.

I still send my parents thank-you notes for Christmas presents and time spent together, in fact.

Anonymous said...

Wow, well I guess I really f'd up with my boyfriend's mom who truly loves me. I wore jeans on our first meeting, to a baseball game. And, I didn't send a thank you note for the chicken fingers and fries but made her a beautiful wreath for her front door. There are MANY OTHER ways to say Thank You.

And I love Johanna's blog, thanks for asking ay.

ay said...

anon 1:38 -

We're talking venue appropriate. Clearly no one would say you must wear a dress and heels to go to a baseball game.

C said...

The suggestion that sending a thank you note is an outdated and unnecessary custom is laughable. It should be an absolute must, short of attending an event at your own parents' or siblings' houses.

I find it almost as silly to suggest that your significant other's parents should like "you for you," not your clothes. Would you burp after dinner and then announce, "Hey, you gotta' like me for me, right?" Although, My Two Cents, if you being you means demonstrating that you don't know how to dress venue- and occasion-appropriately, I'm assuming your significant other's parents appreciated you making it that much easier to arrive at their opinion about you.

Jami said...

Oh man, if only my lived-in-Connecticut-for-more-than-50-years mother were reading these comments! Totally agree with Johanna on the appropriate wardrobe choices for the venue (note: she is not suggesting that you wear a DvF wrapdress and pumps if you're meeting the parents at a local tee ball tournament-- this is Xmas dinner!). Thank you notes are a must though, even if you think they're antiquated. Those "of a certain age" absolutely appreciate the gesture (and who doesn't love getting real mail these days??). For the four minutes and 41 cents that it costs you to write one, why not err on the side of generosity?

Kiki said...

I agree with most of the people on here by saying a thank you note is a MUST. If I brought someone to Thanksgiving or Xmas dinner and he was wearing jeans, my mother would FLIP. Johanna's advice of asking the boyfriend about what is expected is important to note, but erring on the side of too conservative or too "put together" is never a bad thing, especially when you're dealing with parents. Connecticut parents at that!

not a fashion queen said...

I am with Johanna about going a tad conservative. It doesn't mean you have to go buy a whole new outfit for dinner. Just pick something on the conservative side of what you already own.

My personal fave is the sweater dress and flats. You could be in for a long day and that outfit could take all the way to hanging on the couch comfy without wrinkling or an uncomfortable waistband after eating too much turkey.

Sending thank you notes is a sign of class.

Anonymous said...

Your BF is wearing khakis and a blazer? Are you dating someone from Late Night Shots? And they're making you go to church?

Run far, FAR away.

Anonymous said...

Johanna's advice is great, and as always, the outfits are very chic. If you are worried about being too dressy or not dressy enough, I would just ask his mom or older sister. Send an email or give a call asking if there is anything you can bring and just ask what would be acceptable attire. Hey, they could be the family that dresses for their post-dinner, football- watching, nap attire. Or, they could go all out with dressing up. Just make sure you are comfortable with what you choose to wear. I've been in too many situations where I've "dressed to impress" and been completely uncomfortable, and it showed.

Anonymous said...

I think the advice today was great (and I don't always agree with everything on ASJINE)--I have yet to meet a parent who didn't love a thank you note, whether it was expected or not. For the record though I will say I have seen ay wear skirts and heels to a baseball game....

Teek said...

Seconded - if you can speak to his mom or sister, find out what would be appropriate from them. I would err on the side of caution with the wool skirt (though I'd go with something A-line) or the sweater dress.

And your detractors are so missing the point. The key point here is not "meeting the family", it's "dressy, conservative affair". I do Christmas with my intimate family only and I still wear a velvet dress or similarly formal and conservative wear every year.

It'd be a huge faux pas for a new boyfriend to show up in jeans and a t-shirt at my house for thanksgiving or christmas. We still would judge him on his own merits but he wouldn't be making the greatest first impression that he could.

And I'm not even going to justify the "thank you notes are old-fashioned" with a response. Some people have no manners. (And yes, bring a small gift of wine or chocolates or baked goods or a plant, too.)

Melanie said...

I am from Connecticut and I know a few people from Weston. These are the sort of people who stand on tradition...particularly if that tradition involves old-fashioned New England values and picture-perfect winter holidays (think Martha). Living in DC, I see a lot of (mostly young) people scurrying off to get wasted at their holiday soirees in outfits from the Nordstrom winter holiday lookbook, but in New England, holidays are a time for sober reflection and staying warm. (Nice pants outfits are therefore perfectly fine, as long as the event is casual enough.) I second everything Johanna suggested, and all the people who suggested hostess gifts. I'll also throw in the reminder that you need proper outerwear. If you get cold, they will click their tongues and shake their heads at you behind your back for not having enough sense to wear a hat/scarf/gloves/etc., and for being cold when it's not even in the teens.

Not to say that everyone up there expects formalities and conservative comportment, but I know that if I show up to Thanksgiving in jeans (no matter how dressy), my mom is going to give me the look that says, "Why didn't you pack your nice pants, Melanie?" And I'm not even from a super chi-chi town like Weston.

my two cents said...

I feel sorry for people in families where it's an expectation that they should write thank you notes. What does that say about how strong your relationships are that your parents and siblings need a note from you to know you appreciate their hospitality?

Anonymous said...

If only "my two cents" had gotten to my mother about the not writing family members thank you notes--it would have saved hours of my childhood.

Seriously, though--my family knows that I appreciate when they go out of their way to do something nice for me. But, it's a nice, and polite, thing to do to go out of my way to thank them. Think of it as a reciprocal effort for the effort they made for me. Plus no one ever gets angry about getting a thank you note--what's the harm?

Teek said...

We are not suggesting she write thank you notes to her own parents, we are suggesting she write thank you notes to her *boyfriend's* family, to whom she is a stranger and a guest. There is nothing sad about taking a moment a few days later to let someone know how much you appreciated their hospitality and their time.

bff in chicago said...

my two cents, you, my dear, are a fool. it's not about them needed a thank-you note, it's about them feeling loved when they receive one unexpectedly. I feel like I'm explaining 2+2=4 to someone -- it just IS. accept it.

avril lavigne needs to go away and never come back. her music sucks, her husband's music sucks, her clothing sucks, her attitudes sucks - *she* sucks.

DListed's "Teri Snatcher" caption made me giggle. she looks like the crypt keeper with skin.

Suz said...

What does that say about how strong your relationships are that your parents and siblings need a note from you to know you appreciate their hospitality?

The point is that this isn't your family. It's someone else's. And you're meeting them for the first time.

A thank you note is always a good thing to send.

ataraxia said...

who knew thank you notes could be such a controversial subject? only in the blogosphere!

thanks for spreading good advice, johanna.

my two cents said...

I apologize, my comment was geared toward "k" not the rest of you.

js said...

Thank you notes are CRUCIAL, and not at all old-fashioned. It really is a matter of respect and appreciation. I always write one, even if I am just staying with a girl friend's family for a few days.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

No jeans at Thanksgiving dinner? Who are you people, the Kennedys? RIDICULOUS.

C said...

Anon 4:35, it's not a universal rule. It's rather an admonition to match the outfit to the setting and tone, and if you're unsure of those two elements, to err on the side of conservative dress. When I make my trip to Texas this Thanksgiving to spend the holiday with my fiancé's family, I know that I can wear jeans if I want to because his family does a large, casual reunion-style gathering, rather than a formal affair. However, before I visited for the first time last Thanksgiving I would never have dreamed of arriving in jeans simply because they weren't the Kennedys.

Anonymous said...

My two cents,

Did you actually read the question, or are you just looking for a reason to argue? The thank you note would not be from a family member, it would be from the GUEST of a family member. Perhaps you should have a cup of coffee and re-read. Maybe then you'd understand that crucial difference and realize there's family dysfunction and then there's just plain good breeding.

And for the record, hostess gifts and thank you notes are not just a Connecticut thing. I was raised in the South and can not fathom showing up at someone's house for dinner empty-handed, or staying for a weekend without writing a note.

N said...

For serious. Why are people getting so worked up over dressing respectfully and sending a thank you note?

Christine said...

I totally agree with Johanna's advice. Dressing conservatively and pristinely always impresses boyfriends' mothers. They WILL talk if you look slutty or overly casual in any way, shape, or form. It's all about first impressions--i.e., being your BEST self, not changing your self!

Maxie said...

I agree with this post 100%. Why risk being dressed inappropriately when you could just wear something like the outfits Johanna suggested? It's not like she's saying wear an cocktail dress to the event. Even if the family ended up being dressed in jeans (which I severely doubt is going to happen) what's wrong with being a little dressed up. Just match what your boyfriend is wearing and you'll fit in fine I'm sure.

Oh- and just for the record... I cannot believe that some people think thank you notes are outdated! Wow.

laura said...

Being with family is nice, and usually a bit more casual, but it IS the holiday season. What is so "Kennedy" about wearing nicer (not uncomfortable, just nicer) clothes to celebrate the holidays? That's why the food is special; that's why everyone has off work; that's why gifts are exchanged. It's special. We bring out the "good stuff" because we're blessed to have it, and blessed to have people to share it with.

lady reporter said...

In the meantime, perhaps Johanna could suggest an outfit for the BF...khakis and a blazer? Really?? Oh my, DC, of my...or should I be blaming Connecticut for the khaki/blazer combo???

Glad I'm headed overseas this year...I don't care much for turkey anyway.

I do love a nice thank you note though...

Johanna said...

I'd love to respond to each of your comments individually, because I think nearly all of you make really good points, but alas, to do so for 39 comments would take me well into primetime TV watching time!

I will say that like K, I still write thank-you notes to my own parents, to my brother and sister-in-law and anyone else who does anything lovely on my behalf, be they family members or not. I don't think this smacks of a dysfunctional family at all. it may be manners to the nth degree, but you know, that's what happens when you were raised by parents who wouldn't let you play with your new toys on Christmas morning until every single thank-you note had been written.

The outfit advice I proffered was geared specifically toward this reader who had already told me her boyfriend would be wearing dressier-than-jeans manner. If he's in jeans and insists that's what his family does, then it's up to you if you follow his lead.

But I think Laura's comment summed up my feelings on this matter quite well. What's wrong with treating this time of year a little bit more nattily than the other 10.5 months? In my book, nothing.

best,
J

p.s. a Mom SO cares about the appearance of the woman their precious son might marry. if you think she doesn't, you're in for a surprise...

etcetera said...

definitely skip the thank you note. SOOO outdated. you should also chew with your mouth open.

tellin' it like it is said...

I'm sorry but it's WEIRD that you write thank you notes to your own family members. That's just a bit too rich for my blood.

Johanna said...

tellin' it like it is-

I guess I shouldn't admit that I also send my family members cards on Halloween, Valentine's Day and on their anniversaries?

oops,
J

a mother in california said...

I'm most likely the oldest reader you have on your website, but I just had to say, from a mother's perspective, thank goodness there are still women out there like you and your readers. Thank you notes are not a dying practice, at least I hope they aren't.

Manners and being a lady don't have to run in contrast to modernity. You epitomize that class (most of the time), and that is why you are the first website I check every morning. My 29 year old daughter does the same.

keep up the hard work. it will pay off in the end with a fantastic opportunity.