The Written and Unwritten Rules of Etiquette

You classy, confident woman, you.

“Nothing is less important than which fork you use. Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is ethics. It is honor.”

Emily Post

The grand old dame of etiquette Emily Post wrote the words above long before local etiquette expert Sarah Bohl was learning about the topic, yet they still hold true today, she says.  

“I am absolutely convinced true etiquette goes beyond being polite or having good manners,” Bohl says. “True etiquette is expressing kindness, compassion and respect for others, and therefore is an expression of love.”

First written in 1922 and now in its 19th edition, “Emily Post’s Etiquette” has long been the guiding light on the dos and don’ts of how one should carry oneself.

Previous editions included wise nuggets of information such as, “A lady must never sit on a gentleman’s left because a lady on the left is not a lady,” and “In a ball dress, a lady of distinction never leans back in a chair or against anything.” The most recent version focuses on more 21st-Century issues such as, “Do I have to respond to every email and text?” and “Is it wrong for the bride and groom to tweet at their own wedding?”

So as women, how do we go about navigating the world of etiquette in a modern world?

According to Bohl, who has been researching this topic for over a year now, “The world is crying out for two things: civility and confidence. Not only do we need to know how to be civil, polite and empathetic, but we need to know how to respectfully voice opinions and stand up for ourselves.”

This is especially true in the digital age when so much communication takes place behind the comfort of a computer screen.

“People feel like they can say whatever they want when they are hiding behind a screen,” Bohl says. “They don’t seem to process that those words wound just as badly.”

“When I teach etiquette,” Bohl continues, “I tell my students I am giving them an ‘etiquette toolbox.’ I’m giving them a lot of information, and then I fully trust they will pull out the right tool to use in the right situation. But this coin can be flipped, especially for women. I believe this empowers women to also not use a tool in a certain situation. Etiquette should never be a reason to keep quiet and not stand up for yourself.”

One more thing: Bohl’s recommendation for all things etiquette? “Emily Post’s Etiquette.”


To help navigate etiquette in the modern age, here are a few tips from Sarah Bohl, local etiquette coach:


“Courtship communication has completely evolved in the 17 years since I met my husband, and I am not-so-secretly glad I didn’t have to worry about texting and online dating it is such a nuanced world to wade through,” Bohl says. She recommends taking the time to understand what your partner is looking for in communication, and set some ground rules.

For example, “Maybe he or she really doesn’t want you to tag her in your Instagram posts or direct message your ex even if you are still friends,” Bohl says.

Tip: Want to do something super-romantic and get some major points? Take the time for a handwritten letter. “I have saved cards and notes from my husband, and there is something to be said for those tangible memories!” Bohl says.


Commonly overlooked, but oh-so-important is the simple RSVP. You get the invitation, read it, put the date in your planner and buy your party frock, but if you haven’t told the host you are coming, your job is not complete.

“Hosts need to know how many people they can expect at their event, and these days we rarely get an accurate headcount I’m guilty of this myself sometimes but it really is respectful and gracious to let your host know if you will be there or not,” Bohl says.

Tip: Respond quickly and honestly. If you aren’t able to make it or quite frankly just don’t want to, that is fine. It’s your business. Just let the hosts know you decline with regret. However, if you say you will be there, then it is your responsibility to make every effort to honor your commitment.

New situations

Whether it’s new potential in-laws, a new job or a new city, new situations can be nerve-wracking, at best. In order to avoid an etiquette faux pas, Bohl recommends doing a few minutes of advanced research to help you understand what you are walking into.

Tip: Planning a wedding? “Have a conversation with your family and your in-laws to find out what transitions are important to them,” says Bohl. “This will help you tread lightly when talking about these areas and will keep those relationships in a good and loving place!”


Photography by Angie Klaus Photography and David Strom, Handlettering by Sarah Bohl

Sarah Bohl is a life-long etiquette student who, after eight years in the wedding industry, decided to become an etiquette coach specializing in millennials and Generation Z. Sarah is the creator and host of the “Everyday Etiquette” podcast and teaches etiquette classes in Southeast Missouri and online.

Interested in learning more? Check out Bohl’s etiquette podcast, “Everyday Etiquette with Sarah Bohl,” follow her on Instagram at @sarahbohl, or visit her website to learn more about upcoming etiquette classes.