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20-40-60 Etiquette---Need a snappy comeback?


By Callie Athey, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Helen Ford Wallace


QUESTION: I was in the elevator recently on my way visit a friend in the hospital. I had on a new shirt and vest and really thought I looked stylish. A lady (stranger) looked at me, grabbed my cuff and said “well, these sleeves are really too long. You might want to cut them off.” I was shocked and said nothing. Is there a polite retort for “mind your own business?”

CALLIE’S ANSWER: I don’t think you need to say anything at all. Be confident in your look, and don’t mind strangers. Unless she looked fabulous, did she look stylish?


LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: I think I would go with being shocked and saying nothing, too. It is hard enough to live up to the expectations of people you know (and even harder to live by your own internal ones without worrying so much about what others’ think). I don’t think one stranger’s unsolicited opinion about you in an elevator should be added to your list of the voices that matter. If she had said something hateful about people or spewed something mean about any number of controversial topics in the news these days, you can politely tell her to keep her opinions to herself. What you were wearing was not her call to make, nor are you required to respond. Silence is always OK with people who are trying to engage you like that, whether it’s personal or political. But next time, you can try something that would cut off all conversation because there’s nothing else to say, such as “OK” or “Got it.” And then let it go or fix your sleeves – you get to decide; not her.


HELEN’S ANSWER: It is sometimes surprising what people say, and you can spend weeks trying to think of what you should have said. It probably made you want to get the sleeves hemmed immediately or at least roll them up.

There was nothing to be gained by a rude comment back at the woman, so chalk that one up to an elevator experience gone wrong.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Jane Jayroe, former Miss America and television news anchor: This is one of those times that I would have been without words in the moment but might spend the next 24 hours thinking about what I wish that I had said.

Of course it was rude to comment on your blouse. But don’t we all have friends who just don’t seem to have a filter between a fleeting thought in their mind and what comes out their mouths? They don’t mean anything by it. I might be guilty of that on occasion myself.

What I would like to have said in that situation is something funny with a little sane perspective like “Thanks, are you volunteering to fix the sleeves?” But the truth is you don’t know her story. Maybe she was just really nervous because she was going to see a family member who had just had some awful news or who knows? The best rule is always kindness.   Say thanks and leave the comment in the elevator where all worthless words belong in a space to evaporate.



Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email


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Helen Ford Wallace

Helen Ford Wallace is a columnist covering society-related events/news for The Oklahoman. She puts local parties online with daily updates. She creates, maintains and runs a Parties blog which includes web casts. She is an online web editor for... Read more ›

Lillie-Beth Brinkman

Lillie-Beth Brinkman is a Content Marketing Manager for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. She was previously an assistant editor of The Oklahoman Read more ›

Callie Athey

Callie Athey is 20-something and is a graduate from the University of Oklahoma. She has worked in various positions, ranging from Event Coordinator to Environmental Health and Safety Assistant. Currently, Callie is an Executive Assistant to a... Read more ›