How the Queen of Etiquette Has Changed

A side-by-side look at how Emily Post's bible of social conduct has grown up to suit modern-day life

How the Queen of Etiquette Has Changed
Jane Bruce

It's been just seven years since the last update of Etiquette, Emily Post's go-to resource on social conduct. The 18th Edition of this good-behavior bible is quite different in both appearance and content than the dark blue tome from 1922 that might be sitting on your parents' (or grandparents' shelf). So, how has Emily grown up over the past 80 years to adapt to our modern, tech- and social media-heavy society? Here is a side-by-side comparison that explores what has changed... and what remains the same.

Click here for the How the Queen of Etiquette Has Changed Slideshow.

When Post first wrote Etiquette in the '20s, the nation was going through a time of change. The economy flourished, and more and more Americans were leaving the quiet suburbs and moving into cities. It was a big time for women, as well, as they obtained the right to vote, hemlines were rising, and many were choosing to leave a life of domesticity for a career of their own. The book instantly soared to the top of national best-seller lists, and the woman who was once told that a lady shouldn't work (she didn't until her own two boys were off in boarding school) became an overnight celebrity and an expert on social conduct.

Certainly times have changed since the '20s — and the book has been updated many times since then, as well. "Typically [it's updated] every five years, and [has been] by several authors," says Anna Post (Emily's great-great-granddaughter, modern etiquette expert, and the author of multiple titles), usually with minor changes and updated information.

The next greatest shift took place with the publication of the 1969 edition by Elizabeth Post, Emily's granddaughter-in-law. Yet, the changes that came with the 18th Edition are the biggest yet. "It’s a seismic shift," adds Anna. Though it doesn't look that way, judging from its cover, the book is smaller. "We eliminated a lot of content, updating the phrasing and tightening the language for modern readers," she adds. Yet, a lot was added. Think about how our worlds have changed — the advent of cellphones, social media, and the economy we live in. And if you just look at how each page is designed, the latest version is much more user-friendly, with sidebars and boxes with real-life anecdotes.

"Manners change over time," says Anna Post, "and with those changes, we need to adopt new ways of dealing with social situations and adapt to the times." For example, is it OK to invite friends to a dinner party over Facebook? Or handshaking  traditionally, women were the first to initiate a handshake, yet these days it seems almost as if the opposite is true.

When updating this modern edition, Post and a team of writers and editors turned to a number of situations and conversations they've encountered themselves, "like questions that the public ask us on EmilyPost.com [and] others that reporters ask us," says Post. They considered quandaries that each of them faced personally, as well. "When doing our research, we put ourselves in the readers shoes," considering what the options are, and consulting surveys and industry experts, with close consideration to tradition. 

So where has the team at The Emily Post Institute seen the most change? Dealing with other people's rudeness. "Multitasking has become a norm for the upcoming generation," says Anna Post. We'll see fewer individuals giving others their full attention — so leave that cellphone in your bag the next time you sit down to dinner.

Click here for the How the Queen of Etiquette Has Changed Slideshow.


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