Dear Miss Manners: I have always understood that it is not polite to place a handbag or clutch on the dinner table. I've been told to put it behind my back on the chair, or in my lap under the napkin.

However, I am going to a black-tie dinner dance soon, and I would like to carry a vintage bag that was left to me by an elderly relative. It is shaped like an animal, somewhat rounded and with a flat base to sit on a flat surface.

When I experimented with placing it on my lap, it rolled off. There is no chance that I will put it on the floor. I think I can manage to trap it on my lap at dinner, but what do I do when dancing commences?

Gentle Reader: Place it on your chair and hope that you are in an honest crowd. If you suspect otherwise, you might hold it in your left hand, behind the shoulders of your dancing partner, trying not to bounce it against him as you dance.

Card conundrum

Dear Miss Manners: What is the proper thing to do with people who don't send back greeting cards?

We sent out over 50 cards last year, and only got 15 or so back. I know they cost time and money and, like me, are getting old-fashioned really quick, but should I be offended?

Gentle Reader: As you realize, sending paper cards is a declining habit, now that there are easier forms of informal communication. (And annoying ones, such as electronic cards, which take up time and space on your computer.)

So before your declare yourself offended, Miss Manners urges you to put aside the question of how your correspondents react. The real issue is whether they keep in touch in some form. Do they ever call? Do they write — perhaps in some way that you do not check, in which case you should inform them that you do not use social media?

If they are never in touch, you should realize that this has been a perfunctory relationship, hardly worth salvaging. But if you hear from them, even once a year, as you apparently used to, you could keep up the tie with whatever means you each prefer.

What's evening dress?

Dear Miss Manners: How long a dress is appropriate for "evening dress"?

Gentle Reader: Traditionally, there were two types of evening dresses: dinner dresses, which have sleeves and long, straight skirts, and ball dresses, which lack sleeves but have big, long skirts to swish around the dance floor. Either may reveal a shocking amount of bosom.

But a lot has happened since then, such as "Le Smoking," which is a female adaptation of gentlemen's evening clothes, and the short dress made so elaborate or revealing that it could not possibly pass for a day dress. Miss Manners concedes that either can pass.

"Miss Manners" is Judith Martin of the Washington Post. Send questions to