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Newport Manners & Etiquette: Prom Dress Code, Grad Parties + More

Wednesday, May 07, 2014


What is prom dress code?

What is prom dress code? How to word a graduation party invitation? What's the same-sex etiquette with aging parents, and funeral etiquette when your boyfriend's daughter dies. All questions to Didi Lorillard at NewportManners.com this week.

Prom dress code

We're worried our daughter's prom dress is way too revealing. She says that's what the girls wear. Prom dress shopping is a nightmare of over-priced peek-a-boo dresses. A.B., Westerly

Teens have always challenged dress codes. Pushing the prom dress code to the extent that the dress is shorter than three inches above the knee, has a low back, and is sheer or cut out to reveal more flesh, are all out. If anything, the choice of a prom dress is a teaching opportunity to show what is appropriate and why. We complain that women are objectified and then we turn around and show too much bare skin. Ask your daughter this, if she wears a revealing dress, what exactly does that say about her? The prom dress is a statement about who she is inside and out. ~Didi

Hosting a graduation party

I am hosting a graduation party for my daughter. The hall holds 250 people and we have a very large family. We will be having a formal dinner for 75 people from 5-7pm, the invitation says 7-12pm for everyone, at which time buffet-style trays with food will be served. I wanted to put an insert for those who are invited to join us for the formal dinner, how do I word that insert? J.L., Springfield, MA

You could say: The family is meeting at five for photographs and a seated family dinner. Please, let us know if you'll be there.

Just for the record, a formal dinner wouldn't start before eight. Formal means the men wear tuxedos and the women wear evening dresses. Set a dress code and be careful when using the word 'formal.' The dress codes 'Suits & Dresses' or 'Jackets & Ties' would both be appropriate for a five o'clock start time. You may want to say it is a seated dinner for family and other guests will be coming in afterward. ~Didi

Same-sex partners and their parents

It's my parents' 50th Wedding Anniversary/Renewal of Vows and I've been wanting to attend but I have a partner/girlfriend whom they dislike (same sex relationship). Is it polite to bring my partner to the occasion or is it even acceptable to miss the occasion just to prove/stand my ground? I really need some advice, I love my parents but the person they are so against has been my partner for 20 yrs. and I plan to spend the rest of my life with her. Please help! Name withheld, Providence

I think it goes like this. Your parents' 50th wedding anniversary/renewal of vows is all about your parents' wedding. It is not about you. If this were your birthday or wedding, it would be all about you and your partner, but it isn't. Do you really want a battle ground? This may not be your golden opportunity.

But, visit your parents on your own and ask them gently if you can bring your partner. It would be childish to say, "I won't come, if my partner can't come." Just as it would be equally as childish, if your parents said, "then don't come." If a face-to-face conversation is not feasible, write a handwritten heartfelt note asking if it would be alright to bring your proven partner of twenty years to their anniversary. No threats. No guilt trip. Just an authentic and honest request.

At their ripe old age, if they haven't come around to accepting your significant twenty year relationship by now, they probably won't easily be swayed. Nevertheless, take comfort in knowing that you gave it your all. Who knows, you may be surprised by their answer. ~Didi

Mourning a daughter

My boyfriend of six years just lost his 30-year-old adopted daughter, who was his ex-wife's biological child. He divorced his wife 11 years ago. Since we have been dating, this child and the ex wife have made numerous attempts to interfere with our relationship and exclude me. He has two biological adult children with his ex, and I have thought a lot about what he is juggling and realize he must support his children and his ex planning the funeral together, as they should. I planned on attending the funeral, and sitting with his siblings or even behind the family row. He has just informed me that his ex does not want me to attend. I'm deeply disappointed. His family is going to look for me, and I'm sure his ex will put her spin on my absence to make herself look good. What should I do? Should I expect more from my boyfriend, or let him decide what is best to keep the peace? L.B., Los Angeles

There is nothing worse than the death of a child, even an adult child because you've known them even longer. Adopting this child who recently died must have been a time-consuming conscience-making decision for your boyfriend. A lot of thought, work and commitment went into adopting this child. This is their private mourning.

Respect the fact there will always be family business between your boyfriend, his former wife, their children and grandchildren. You came along after this cozy nest was built. Unless you've taken their children under your wing, you don't want to make this a less happy occasion than it already is. Since the wife specifically asked that you not attend, make yourself busy. Go off on your own for a mini adventure. When you come home he'll be pleased to see you and that you didn't make a fuss. Being independent at this time is a must.

Your boyfriend is so bottled up with emotions that the last thing he needs is to feel guilt tripped into going to bat to get you invited to the funeral. Back out gracefully. Visit your grandmother at the seashore or go on a yoga retreat. Let him have his space. When you return he will be in deep mourning and you'll need to respect not only his space, but his emotions. Try to get him to talk about his dead daughter. About the good times, her strengths, and their adventures as a father and daughter and as a family. Be a good listener.

With dignity and grace, send a sympathy card or condolence note to his daughter's mother. In due time, you can let his relatives know that you had a long standing prior family commitment and were sorry you were unable to attend. Don't over-explain or complain about the mother not wanting you there. I know you won't, but it would defeat the grace with which you have undertaken to handle this horrible time in the life of your boyfriend and his other family.

Remember, it may take him more than three months to come to grips with his daughter's death. Mourning and the grieving process have many stages. He will need to go through all those stages to find his way, so you'll need to be incredibly patient, forgiving and loving. This is not a test of his love for you. It is entirely different and you must not take this supposed slight personally.

It will get easier when you fully understand you are doing the right thing by stepping back, but being available to him. Be prepared to have to deal with the ramifications from your boyfriend's daughter's death for many months to come. He may suddenly become depressed, distracted, or numb. Stop, think and remember why. Believe me, he will trust you and respect you more for being his friend first and lover second. ~Didi


Do you have a question for Didi? Visit her at NewportManners.com. We can withhold your name and location. Didi researches etiquette and all matters of manners for her book,"Newport Etiquette." Previous weekly GoLocalProv.com columns may be found by typing in Didi Lorillard in the above righthand search. Or scroll down for a list of topics below.  


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Sunday, May 25

Commencement speakers:

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  • Josh Block ’14, Brown tour guide and managing editor for post-Magazine

Honorary degrees:

  • Beatrice E. Coleman ’25, schoolteacher, church musician, and former secretary of the NAACP’s New England Regional Conference (awarded posthumously);
  • Jeffrey Eugenides ’82, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and author;
  • Arthur Horwich ’72, M.D.’75, physician, geneticist, and cellular biochemist;
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  • Lois Lowry ’58, award-winning children’s author;
  • Nalini Nadkarni ’76, forest ecologist and science communicator; and
  • Thomas Perez ’83, civil rights attorney and U.S. secretary of labor.



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Bryant University

Saturday, May 17

Commencement speaker: Richard W. Fisher, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee

Honorary degrees:

  • Richard W. Fisher will address graduating seniors and guests at Bryant's undergraduate exercises on May 17;
  • Robert A. DiMuccio, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Amica Mutual Insurance Company. DiMuccio will speak at the Graduate School of Business and Graduate Programs in Arts and Sciences ceremony on May 15;
  • Joyce M. Roché, president and CEO of the 150-year-old nonprofit organization Girls Inc.;
  • Scott C. Donnelly, the chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Textron Inc.
Richard W. Fisher, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee, the nation’s principal monetary policy making group. Fisher will address graduating seniors and guests at Bryant's undergraduate exercises on May 17;
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Johnson & Wales University

Saturday, May 24

Commencement speaker: Robert J. Palleschi, Global Head, Hilton Hotels and Resorts, Hilton Worldwide

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New England Institute of Technology

Sunday, May 4

Commencement speaker: Kathy Ireland, former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model

Honorary degrees: Cheryl Merchant, president and chief executive officer of Rhode Island’s Hope Global

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Providence College

Sunday, May 18

Commencement speaker: Dr. Temple Grandin, autism awareness advocate, leading innovator in the livestock industry, bestselling author and engineer

Honorary degrees:

  • Dr. Temple Grandin
  • The Honorable Francis J. Darigan, Jr. ’64, retired justice from the Superior Court of Rhode Island
  • Raymond M. Murphy, entrepreneur and philanthropist
  • Sister Margaret Ormond, O.P., prioress of the Congregation of Dominican Sisters of Peace
  • Carolyn Rafaelian, acting CEO of Alex and Ani
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Rhode Island College

Saturday, May 17

Commencement speaker: Valerie Tutson, founder and director of both Rhode Island Black Storytellers and FUNDA Fest: A Celebration of Black Storytelling

Honorary degrees:

  • Valerie Tutson
  • Oscar Herbert, CEO of the Warwick-based Atrion
  • Peter Arpin, partner in Arpin International Group and president of Arpin Renewable Energy and Arpin Broadcast Network.
  • Centenarian Irene Kenny, RIC Class of 1935
  • Dr. Charles MacDonald, chair of the Department of Dermatology at Brown University
  • John Hazen White Jr., CEO and president of Taco Inc.
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Saturday, May 31

Commencement speaker: Bruce Mau, innovator, designer, author, and co-founder of Massive Change Network

Honorary degrees:

  • Bruce Mau
  • Todd Oldham, author and founder of Todd Oldham Studio
  • Jean Kennedy Smith, former US Ambassador to Ireland
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Roger Williams University

Saturday, May 17 

Commencement speaker: Governor Lincoln D. Chafee, Rhode Island

Honorary degrees:

  • Governor Lincoln D. Chafee, Rhode Island
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian
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Salve Regina University

Sunday, May 18

Commencement speaker: Richard Saul Wurman, founder of TED conference

Honorary degrees: Richard Saul Wurman

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University of Rhode Island

Saturday, May 17:

Commencement speaker: Richard Blanco, inaugural poet for President Obama’s second inauguration

Honorary degrees:

  • Richard Blanco, U.S. Inaugural Poet who will speak at commencement will receive an Honorary Doctor of Letters
  • LTG Michael T. Flynn, director of Intelligence, United States Defense Intelligence Agency, will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
  • Bernard LaFayette Jr., Civil Rights leader, Candler School of Theology at Emory University, will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
  • Anne Nolan, president and chief executive officer of Crossroads Rhode Island, will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters

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