I live here in Ohio and received a surprise invitation from a friend of an Ambassador to be a guest at an informal dinner at Governor Strickland’s residence in two weeks.
I haven’t dressed up or worn makeup in five years, so I’m concerned about what level of dress “informal” is when dinner takes place at the Governor’s digs.
I can hold my own with the forks, manners, etc. at a formal dinner — I had a strict stepmother — but what does one call a government official in an informal setting? I’m guessing ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ is appropriate for the Governor and his wife, but I’m not sure about the Ambassador.
I feel nauseous every time I think about it. Please help!
— Ohio Girl
This is my favorite kind of letter — an etiquette 911! Don’t worry, we’ll have you so poised and prepared, the governor and his wife will swear you’ve been to the mansion before.
Addressing your hosts is easy. They’re simply “Governor Strickland” and “Mrs. Strickland.” When you’re introduced, stand up straight, smile warmly and say, “Good evening,” or “It’s nice to meet you.” Throughout the dinner, you can use “yes sir” and “yes ma’am” when answering questions.
GOVERNOR: Did you grow up in Ohio?
YOU: Yes sir, I’m from [town]. I’ve lived here all my life.
I must confess I had to look up how to greet an ambassador. From my research, it looks “Mr. Ambassador” or “Madam Ambassador” would be most appropriate for this situation. (His, her, or your excellency is reserved for foreign ambassadors in formal settings.) Readers, if you have more information about this, please chime in.
As for the dress code, “informal” doesn’t mean backyard barbecue. It just means this isn’t a black-tie affair. Most likely, the men at your table will still be in suits or sport coats, so you’ll want to fit right in.
I suggest you wear a dress and heels. Since it’s summertime, a sleeveless frock is fine, but don’t wear anything too strappy or bare. Think chic and simple — a classic little black or little white dress. (The one pictured here is from J. Crew.)
It sounds like a shopping trip is in order, or at least a visit to the closet of a stylish friend. If you’re still struggling with what to wear, feel free to email me pictures of potential dresses. I’m happy to advise you.
My guess is you’ll feel better about this dinner as soon as you find the right outfit. Since you already have the table manners down, you’re ahead of the game! Just wear lipstick, use your best posture, and try to relax and have fun.