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Johnell Garmany explains how to sail through life without giving offense.

Q. A friend invited me to a party I couldn’t attend. Some time later, when I bumped into her in the grocery aisle, she was sore at me—not because I didn’t show up at the party, but because I never told her I wasn’t coming. Really? —Humbled in Highlands

A. Yes, really. Of course you must respond if an invitation says “RSVP,” but it’s polite to do so even if it doesn’t. Accept or decline; don’t say “maybe,” and don’t be silent. And don’t give your answer at the last minute, or you’ll mess up the host’s planning. Stick to your word. The worst mistake is to say you’ll attend and then not show. This costs the host money and prevents your spot from being filled by some lonely heart. It could also cost you a friendship.


Q. A lot of invitations these days say “cocktail attire.” What the heck does that mean? —Mystified in Middletown

A. Your host is saying, “Get out of the business suit, lighten up and let’s have some fun.” That could mean no tie. It’s your option. A sport coat, however, is a must—paired with an exciting shirt and a great pocket square. Depending on the occasion, the party location and what your spouse is wearing, jeans can be appropriate. Trousers will certainly give you a dressier look. Naturally, accessories are key—shoes should be less serious, the belt should work with the shoes. Last but not least, make a splash with your socks. Colorful socks show a little more sartorial character when you’re kicking back with a cocktail.

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