Ladylike: Channeling Classic and Modern Etiquette to be the Best Version of Yourself

I have been making an effort to be more aware of my etiquette lately, practicing everything from putting my phone away during a meal or a meeting, to greeting others with proper eye contact and thoughtful conversation, to the way I dress, and yes – even holding back the “F word” more often.

There is something so elegant about a woman who holds traditional values and behaves in a way that honors them. I think you can be edgy, contemporary, and fun, yet still incorporate classic traits that make others feel valued and special. Can you imagine how different the world would be if more people followed suit?

I am fortunate to have grown up around women who define the true meaning of a lady, and I’ve always been in awe of how they carry themselves. There is a misconception that those who follow classic etiquette are rude or stuck up; yet that could not be more false. In my opinion, etiquette is the way you carry yourself and only yourself. It’s not about putting others down who are uneducated or uninformed. Its about leading by example, and empowering those around you to respect themselves and others, the way you do in your own life. It’s about radiating class and sophistication, and commanding respect without having to say a word. It’s less about knowing which fork to use, and more about how you make those around you feel. You don’t have to be wealthy to be mindful of etiquette. It has nothing to do with financial status and everything to do with character. In short, etiquette is about being the best version of yourself.

As I’ve explored and researched the rules of both traditional and modern etiquette, I’ve decided to put together a list of ways I’ve personally incorporated being a lady in my own life. Many of these characteristics come naturally to me, others take more work, but all are worth striving for, in my opinion.

Here are 21 ways to channel your ladylike vibes:

Treat everyone with kindness and respect. You should treat the waitstaff in a restaurant the same way you treat the head of a company. A true lady is kind and respectful to everyone regardless of their class or social status.

Be on time. By being on time to meetings, dates, parties, or events, you show the other person that you value their time. You show that you’ve made an effort on your part to respect their invitation. Being late once in a while due to circumstances beyond your control happens. Being late consistently late is selfish, rude, and frankly, there is no excuse.

Accept compliments. A confident lady does not ignore or reject someone who compliments her; she thanks them and graciously and humbly accepts their kind words. “Deflecting someone who compliments you isn’t modest, it’s insulting.” – Robin Abrahams.

Limit cursing. I love a good F-bomb, but overusing harsh language gets old fast. Save your most glorious f*cks for special occasions. They will have more of an impact that way!

Put your phone away at meals and meetings. Do not text, scroll social media, or take phone calls while at a meal or a meeting with others. It makes your company feel undervalued and unimportant. If you have to take an emergency phone call, apologize and excuse yourself from the table, go outside, and make it short. This one takes work and a lot of self-control, but its so worth it. As I’ve curbed this behavior myself, I’ve noticed it more in others, and it is now one of my biggest pet peeves. It is extremely rude. End of story.

Send Thank You notes. When someone extends themselves to help you, always send a Thank You note. Whether they connected you with another person, assisted you with a task, or treated you to dinner, there is an art to thanking someone properly. Handwritten notes are always special, but for smaller gestures, even a phone call or an email will delight a person who went out of their way for you. Also, be detailed in your Thank You. Do not just say “thanks!” – but take time to revisit their kindness and show that you remember their generosity.

Make others feel special. On the heels of properly thanking someone, a lady always makes others feel special. If someone has impacted your life in a positive way, show your gratitude and appreciation for them. Surprise them with a small token gift, write them a handwritten note of thanks, or take them aside and let them know how much they mean to you in a sincere and meaningful way.

Do not engage in gossip. This is a big one! Ever since writing my book Girl Code, I have been extremely conscious of exiting conversations that involve gossip. It’s impossible to avoid discussing others altogether; after all, our relationships are a big part of our lives. If you’re upset with someone’s behavior, it’s natural to express it to your close friends. But cutting people up for fun? Never okay. Being mean and catty? Not very ladylike. When a conversation becomes toxic and negative, either politely try to change the subject, or excuse yourself from the drama.

Make others feel welcome. In your home, in the office, or in conversation. Always strive to make those around you feel included, not excluded.

Give credit where credit is due. Whether through social media, or in a discussion, give credit to others when quoting them or discussing their ideas. If on social media, tag that person in your post, and even better, ask them if you can share their content. A true lady knows there is enough success to go around, and is never too insecure to give credit to another.

Drink alcohol in moderation. I love to indulge in a glass or two of wine, especially in a social setting, but getting sloppy drunk is never cute. Drink a glass of water in between alcoholic beverages and always, always pace yourself.

Do not complain. Nobody wants to be around someone who complains or victimizes themselves. Focus on your blessings, not your problems.

Be a good listener. In today’s day and age, everything moves quickly. We are often distracted by our email, social media, and phones. Take time to genuinely listen to others in a conversation. Do not jump ahead and think about your response, or pick up your smartphone while talking to someone.

Dress well. As fashion powerhouse Tom Ford says, “Dressing well is a form of good manners.” And I have to agree with him. I don’t know about you, but when I’m around someone who is dressed impeccably, it makes me want to step my game up. Dressing well can elevate any situation and shows respect for your surroundings. I am especially mindful of dressing well on airplanes. This is a lost tradition that I try to always respect and make current in my own life.

Engage with others when using social media. Try to respond to as many comments as you can on social media. To dismiss those who are thanking you or making sincere, thoughtful comments is rude. Although its often impossible for me to respond to every comment because I have a larger following, I try to set aside 30-45 minutes per day to answer as many as I can. Social media is about being social. Do not ignore those who enjoy your work!

Do not argue on social media. On the other hand, do not get into public arguments on your social media platforms. It’s classless and tacky. And if someone attacks you, either delete the comment or ignore it.

Choose your words wisely. Think about the way you speak to others. Is it harsh and rude? Or is it polite and well-mannered? Phrases like “Give me ____” or “I need ____” come across as aggressive. Think about phrasing your sentences more along the lines of “May I please have _____?” or “I would like ____.” Aggression makes others uncomfortable and its the opposite of being ladylike, in my opinion.

Be flirtatious, but not vulgar. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to leave an air of mystery when it comes to men. I believe a true lady can be flirtatious and seductive, but can only command true respect from a man when she refrains from vulgarity. It may be tempting to want to be “one of the boys,” but engaging in overly sexual talk or sexual humor with men can make you look cheap. Respect yourself and your sexuality.

Do not slurp your drink. I can’t believe I even have to include this on the list, but I have seen way too many people (both women and men) slurping their drinks and it is disturbing. If you do this, please stop! It’s cringe-worthy.

Do not lick your fingers. Again, this should be a given. There is never an excuse to lick your fingers.

Never pry. Although I share a lot publicly, I am always amazed at how many strangers ask me deeply personal questions. It is never acceptable to pry into anyone’s personal life, whether they are a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger. Avoid asking questions about someone’s age, religion, relationship, salary, etc. If a person wants to share personal details with you, they will.

So there you have it. My personal etiquette rules, based on my own research and preference. You can apply them to your life, or create your own. Simply remember this: at the end of the day, being a lady requires self-awareness and self-respect. It’s not about being perfect. There will be moments where some of these things are lost. We are all human. It’s not about becoming someone else, but becoming the best version of yourself possible.

Here are some more resources on etiquette that you might enjoy:

Photograph found on Pinterest, edited by me

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Showing 9 comments
  • Brianna Engebretsen

    I totally agree. Proper etiquette is something I feel is lost on so many people these days, so it definitely gets noticed when someone takes the time to use it. All of your bullet points are spot on. I try my hardest to not curse much anymore, and now I’m much more tuned in to language so when I hear others use those words, especially frequently, I notice how un-classy it makes someone sound. Love this post.

    • caraalwill

      Thank you Brianna! I’m happy you enjoyed it, and I totally agree with you! xo

  • Hannah Klassen

    Absolutely love this! Currently reading Girl Code and loving every word written. Thank you for being so wonderful.

    • caraalwill

      Thank you so much, Hannah! I’m so glad you’re enjoying it! xo

  • Deborah Thompson

    So in love with this!!! You ROCK Cara!!!!

    • caraalwill

      Thanks Deborah! xo

  • Jasmine

    Cara, I recently read Girl Code cover to cover after finding it while scrolling through books Recommended for Me on Amazon, and I am so glad I did! I love your work and the big idea behind The Champagne Diet. I am now following you on Instagram, along with all the woman mentioned in Girl Code. So exciting to find woman of excellence to help empower me and my friends. I can’t stop talking about your books to my husband. And he also loves the message you put out. Thank you so much. Definitely sending your books as a birthday gift to my 16 year old sister.

    • caraalwill

      Hi Jasmine! Thank you so much, I’m so happy you’re enjoying my work! Wishing you all the very best. xo

  • Linda

    The giving credit where credit is due is a huge issue on social media. It takes but a minute to do but some refuse to do it. Thanks for an excellent article.

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