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GENTLE READERS: Not for the first time, Miss Manners is confused by the fashion news. There are pronouncements that after having lived so long in leisure clothes, people will never return to structured clothing. And there are counter-pronouncements that after slopping around in sweat clothes for so long, people will be eager to dress up.

Let us skip the naive but automatic protest that it is shallow to notice and interpret clothing, and also the mistaken belief that etiquette applies only to formal situations — thus liberating people to behave badly at home — and that etiquette would, therefore, favor dressing up all the time.

Before the pandemic, if Miss Manners can cast her mind that far back, we had been reduced to two styles of dressing: Casual, and Prom-Wedding-Awards Ceremony. As the latter category does not often touch the lives of most people, the result was pretty much All Casual, All the Time.

But then came sequestering, and Casual became the more formal dress, at least from the waist up. Miss Manners has no objection to whatever she cannot see, as long as those who are exposed to it do not. Etiquette is good at minding its own business.

But when we return to public life, it seems to her that much fun is lost when there is no variety. Wasn’t it the sign of an oppressed proletariat that they all wore similar, drab, monotonous, practical clothing — as opposed to those of us free to exercise our individuality?

True, that sometimes makes trouble: schoolchildren vying for status symbols their families can’t afford, for example. Disputes over how much of the body should be shielded from public view. Items deemed chic that are not just uncomfortable, but that can cause bodily damage. And styles that cause shock — whether because they are vulgar, silly or what everyone will be wearing next year.

Dress fights are so common between parents and children, and employers and employees, that they are considered to be part of normal life.

And there is a powerful industry devoted to ensuring that our standards of decency and even of beauty are constantly changing.

Despite all that, Miss Manners would think it a shame if people all took to — or perhaps continued — slouching around in their jammies. It is delightful to lounge backstage, partly because of the contrast with being out in public. The trade-off between comfort and style is exaggerated, except by those who insist upon wearing stiletto heels or skin-tight pants.

Beyond that, it is a shame to limit life to one mode and mood. The variety is stimulating, to the extent that behavior tends to be influenced by dress — so that, for example, what used to be business dress prompted a professional attitude, and fancy clothes contributed to a festive spirit.

So yes, Miss Manners is hoping for a return to comfortably structured clothing, but only because one shouldn’t have to attend a wedding in order to play dress-up.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a friend I’ve known since childhood. We live on different continents, so we haven’t seen each other often, but our friendship continued even after we each got married.

Since the lockdown, being able to Zoom with my friend and his spouse every month or so has been a miracle. However, I would like to have time with just my friend. I can’t find a polite way to say that I’d like to talk to my friend without the company of his spouse. Can you?

GENTLE READER: Yes. Your devices also permit you to make telephone calls.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at http://missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners@gmail.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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