How etiquette has changed over the last twenty years

I sometimes wish there was a different word for etiquette. Often the term conjures up a stuffy, old-fashioned concept; one that is certainly not relatable to today’s realities. But as I often say in my trainings, I would not be an etiquette consultant if it was any of those things. I remember when I was trained as an etiquette consultant just 13 years ago. I learned about fax machine etiquette, and business casual did not include jeans. Today we have etiquette rules about virtual meetings, pandemic conversation dos and don’ts and how to address a person who is nonbinary. Etiquette evolves and adapts to the changing realities in our society. That says to me that etiquette is not old fashioned and not unrelatable.

I thought it would be helpful to share some of the etiquette rules or topics that have changed over the last 20 or so years.

Tech devices

As I already mentioned some of the digital devices that I learned about in etiquette school either no longer exist or are rarely used. This includes fax and answering machines, landlines (I finally got rid of mine), conference calls (why conduct a conference call when you can meet via Zoom and have your video off?!), beepers and call waiting. Each of those devices had etiquette rules. For instance, one rule was when sending a document via email it was polite to let the receiver know in advance that you were going to send a document in an email versus by mail.

When the pandemic hit, we all transitioned to virtual meetings, and we etiquette consultants had to come up with etiquette dos and don’ts for these platforms. Technology will continue to be an ever-evolving area of etiquette as new devices and ways of connecting or getting work done are created.


Twenty years ago, attire was much more formal. Nylons were common for the office, ties and business suits de rigueur and flip flops, called Zoris, were rarely worn outside the home. Flip flops are still not appropriate for the office unless you work in a very casual office setting and the dress code allows for them. But, today, outside of the office, flip flops, are acceptable in many places. I don’t recommend them for dressier occasions like at a wedding (unless it’s a beach wedding), a nice restaurant and certainly not when meeting the President of the United States. One of the clothing items my clients continually ask me to address are yoga pants. Invented in 1998, this ubiquitous piece of clothing is the greatest and worst invention of all time. Greatest because they are so comfortable and easy to wear, worst because people are wearing them in places they just shouldn’t, mainly the office. Yoga pants are too revealing and casual for a professional workplace. Save them for after work and weekend wear, oh, and even a yoga class. Imagine that!


It used to be we would address a woman as Miss, if she wasn’t married, or Mrs. if she was. Then Ms. was introduced in 1961, although it was discovered in publications dating back to 1901. Ms. allowed women not be identified by her marital status. Today, there is another honorific – Mx, which is pronounced “mix” – a gender-neutral title often used by people who are non-binary, trans or who don’t want to be identified by a gender.

Pronouns and gender sensitivity

Years ago, you were either he/him or she/her. We didn’t even think about an alternative way to refer to someone. And expected gender roles were common. But, thanks to more acceptance and awareness of gender and non-binary preferences we have gender-neutral pronouns – they/them/theirs. You see more and more people listing their pronouns on their name tag or virtual meeting moniker. Wondering how to navigate using gender pronouns? This is a great article. Keep this in mind; it’s polite to offer your pronouns when meeting someone and to ask what pronouns someone else uses. Never assume you know.

There is also a lot more awareness of gender stereotyping and bias. I remember learning activities for kids in etiquette school to teach attire and grooming etiquette. One of the activities was to instruct the girls on how to do a manicure and to teach the boys the specifics for tying a tie. I hate to admit it, but just three years ago a parent called me out on my gender exclusion (one could even call it sexism) by conducting the gender specific activities. That was a good wake up call. I don’t teach either of those activities any longer, but for a few years after the parent pointed out my insensitivity, I allowed the students to decide if they wanted to participate in manicures or tie tying. I was happy to see boys participating in the manicures and girls learning how to knot a tie.

Addressing married women

Another major etiquette change is the proper way to address a married woman. It was correct to refer to her by her husband’s first and last name as in “Mrs. John Smith,” rendering the poor woman with no identity – just a person belonging to her husband. I’m happy to report that this incredibly sexist practice is going away and should rarely be used. I wrote a blog post about this several years ago and there are 103 comments from some very impassioned women. 99 percent of those who commented very much dislike being addressed this way.  The remaining comments have been from women, both young and old, who prefer being referred to by their husband’s first and last name.

So, what is the proper way to address a married woman, especially in formal correspondence? You use the preferred honorific (Dr., Mrs., Mr., Ms., Mx.) before the person’s first and last name, like this: “Ms. Jane Smith and Mx. Brad Smith.” For an informal occasion, simply write, “Jane and Brad Jones.” That said, if you know someone prefers being addressed by their spouse’s first and last name, it is polite to honor that preference even if you dislike the practice. Doing so is being a mannerly person and that will never change.

These are just a few of the etiquette changes we’ve experienced over the last twenty years. I’d love to hear anything else you’ve noticed or your thoughts on these changes.




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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

1 Comment

  1. plumbers in alexandria on August 31, 2022 at 2:50 am

    A lot of things change, great points

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