- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

A lady never goes out of style. Her class and kindness, thoughtfulness and good manners are appreciated whether it's 1951 or 2001, says Letitia Baldrige, a District authority on manners and etiquette.
Yet some aspects of being a lady have changed over the years, and Noelle Cleary and Dini von Mueffling, co-authors of the newly published "The Art and Power of Being a Lady," by Atlantic Monthly Press, say readers are ripe for a new interpretation of what it means to be a lady.
"One of the most important differences between the definition of being a lady in the 1950s and our new definition is that the elitist and classist implications are out the window," Ms. Cleary says.
In their book, they clarify that claim by observing: "Being a lady is an 'art' and not a birthright. It is something that has to be earned. It's about paying attention and aspiring to do the right thing even when others don't."
This interpretation is oceans apart from that of the British, who traditionally use the word 'lady' in referring to noblewomen below the rank of duchess, such as a countess, marchioness or baroness, titles acquired by birth, marriage or political elevation to the House of Lords.
Another change is a modern lady's language. Not only is she independent and strong, but her tongue is sharp, and she even swears, write Ms. Cleary and Ms. von Mueffling, who are both in their early 30s.
"A curse word never killed anyone," they write. They add, however, that swearing is only acceptable if done among friends and acquaintances with a similar verbal tolerance.
Ms. Baldrige, who read and liked the book a lot, disagrees. A swear word should never come across the lips of a lady, she says. If a lady has to blow off steam, she goes for a brisk walk or swim, Ms. Baldrige says.
"You do something physical other than hitting someone," she says. "It also helps to have a dog. You vent on a dog, and he just looks at you and cocks his head."
Ms. Baldrige speaks from experience. She has two Jack Russell terriers, Binky and Doodle, who may know a side of her no one else has ever seen or heard.
In researching and writing the book, Ms. Cleary and Ms. von Mueffling set up a Web site where people could answer questionnaires about what it means to be a lady. About 200 women responded.
One of the first readers of the new book was Steve Martin, the comedian, who wrote in promotional material: "I was halfway through the book when I realized I'm a man. However, I loved it anyway."
As examples of ladies, the authors have listed 100 women, including Madeleine Albright, Jennifer Aniston, Princess Diana, Rosa Parks and Paloma Picasso. All were chosen for such qualities as authentic style, social consciousness and contributions or their undeniable grace and dignity.
Another big difference between being a lady now and 50 years ago is the modern view of sex and romance. While independence and emancipation are good, Ms. Baldrige warns that some modern women might be too crisp and curt for their own good.
"That turns men off," she says. "It may be worth it to be nice and make [a man] feel comfortable," she says.
One of the most important rules in romance and sex is never to criticize a man's lovemaking.
"That would absolutely clobber their self-confidence," Ms. Baldrige says. If the evening was pleasant, on the other hand, Ms. Baldrige suggests the lady write a thank-you note.
Ms. Cleary and Ms. Mueffling do mention the importance of thank-you notes, being a good hostess and having good table manners, something Ms. Baldrige says modern women and men need to be reminded of as often as possible.
"There are so many social skills that are fading, and it's so sad," she says. "It just makes it tougher to get through the day. A really outstanding lady is someone who makes others feel good about themselves and happy to be in her presence."
Ms. Baldrige, whose 18th book, "A Lady, First," is due out in October, says there is one ultimate, timeless trick to telling whether someone is a real lady or gentleman:
"Watch the way someone treats a waiter or a cab driver. If they treat them well, they are a lady and a gentleman.

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