The Fashion Magpie Yes or No

The Polite Decline.

Have you ever gotten yourself into a pickle where you’ve been invited to do something that is inconvenient, or unappealing, or too expensive, or too complicated?  Or maybe it’s with a crowd you don’t particularly care for,  or you just don’t want to do it because you…just don’t.

This has happened to me a couple of times recently and it always leaves me feeling horrible.

Will you judge me if I admit that I sometimes reach for a white lie: “I can’t make it that day,” or “I can’t find a sitter” or “Shoot, I have plans”?   Then I sit in guilt and worry about the next time I’m invited to do something similar, when I will either find myself beholden to attend or in desperate search of a different excuse.

Other times, I give myself a little Shonda Rhimes pep talk: “How bad can it be?  Just say yes!  Be open!  Try something!”  Unfortunately, this usually ends badly for me, if I’m being honest: if I’ve resorted to a private pep talk of this ilk, the day of the event comes and I’m in a slumpy mood because I’m keying myself up to do something I don’t want to, and I’m grasping for an exit clause.  I always find myself thinking that while I appreciate the “year of yes” mentality, I also feel that learning to say no is an equally important exercise, as I am in turn conserving energy for the things that matter to me most.

Sometimes, I think about something my elegant, well-mannered grandmother once told me about such situations: “You should be polite, but you don’t owe anyone an explanation.  Just say, ‘No, thank you.’  End of story.  They shouldn’t have the audacity to ask why.”  This is far easier said than done; I’m prone to over-explaining everything and would need to bite my tongue and wince in pain to prevent myself from offering some kind of half-baked excuse, as it feels somehow cruel to respond to an invitation with a cool “No, thank you,” though I’m sure my grandmother pulled it off with aplomb.  (I also think that we live in a different day and age, as I am convinced that someone would ask me: “But why not?” rather than gracefully accepting the decline without inquiry.)

Recently, I asked my mother for her opinion on the topic.  As I had expected and admittedly dreaded, she urged me to tell the truth: “If you make up an excuse, she’ll invite you again and you’ll be up a creek without a paddle.  There’s always a decorous way to explain the situation.”  Oy.  She was quick to advise me to offer alternatives that might work (“coffee instead of lunch?”) and to extend kindnesses (“so thoughtful of you to think of me”), but she was also insistent that I be truthful: “I cannot come because I have limited time with a nanny and I need to use that time to work,” “I’m honestly not a huge fan of that kind of movie,” “I’d love to see you, but I’m not especially comfortable with that group of friends,” etc.  For context, my mom has season passes to the Kennedy Center’s ballet programs, and she often invites her girlfriends, her sisters-in-law, her daughters to attend with her.  (Otherwise, my dad will sleep through them.)  She has one very dear girlfriend who straight up told her: “It’s so nice of you to invite me, but I just don’t care for ballet.”  My mom accepted it and moved on without a second thought: “I’d rather treat someone who enjoys it!”  (She and her friend now spend their friend dates at fancy restaurants and spas instead.)

It’s a tough pill to swallow–but I know in my heart of hearts that she’s right.  I still gravitate toward the ease and convenience of a white lie from time to time, but I feel this brand of honesty is somehow part and parcel of being a true woman.

What are your thoughts on saying “no” to an invitation?


+It dawned on me that there is a big discrepancy between the ethos in this post and the one on breaking up with friends, where I come to the conclusion that a quiet and gradual dissolution — rather than a direct, head-to-head conversation — is an OK path to forge.  I feel there’s an obvious distinction between the two, in that in the latter, I have made a decision that someone is not a good or healthy fit for me and my life, and I have the right to quietly move on from a personal wellness standpoint.  But maybe I’m wrong here?  Is that too inconsistent?

+I love the contrast ribbing trim on this striped breton tee.

+This darling clutch is on sale!  I’m dying over it.  Do I need it?!?!

+At the top of my fall wardrobe wishlist: this precious fair isle sweater and these velvet bow mules.

+Mango is running a great sale and this is currently in my shopping basket.

+One of my favorite dresses I’ve worn this summer is on sale!  (This is in my cart.)

+These are adorable in the pink — and marked WAAAAAAY down.

+This would be super chic for an expecting mother — I’d style it more Charlotte York, though, with pointed toe flats and huge pearl earrings.  It looks to be roomy especially with the back pleating!

+Extra 40% off all sale items at Polo — a great time to snag a cashmere sweater (for under $100!) for your man, or a special occasion dress for your mini.



  1. Something I learned while in the dating world was that if I really did want to hang out with someone but didn’t want to go on some specific date or was busy, it was always best to suggest another option. That lets the person (romantic-interest or not) know that you want to be in his or her company. A “No, but why don’t we do something else” will usually be received better than just a “No.” (I will say that this only applies to people you do want to spend time with.)

    1. That makes complete sense to me! Thoughtful. I wonder how you get out of dates you’re just flat out uninterested in?


  2. I, too, struggle at times with saying no — at least, saying no in an honest/direct manner (I am prone to the white lie as well!) I appreciate your grandmother & mother’s approaches. Forthrightness is generally a virtue in my book!

    Those velvet bow mules from Moda are TDF — I remember them from last season & am happy to see them available again!

    1. It really is hard. It feels so much easier to simply say you can’t make it, which is the whitest of white lies, because you technically can’t make it because you don’t want to…but it’s not exactly the truth. xo

  3. I reallyyyy struggle with saying no. This at times has its benefits, I get to do lots of awesome things and meet new people, but it also can leave me stressed and over committed. I think your mom’s point about just saying no is important. You do not have to go to everything and your true friends will understand, you need to find balance. I actually had the opposite experience of your mom, I invited a friend to a baseball game, she said yes then when we were at the game she told me she hated baseball. I wish she had said no, I would have given the ticket to someone who would enjoy it.

    A random thought I had while thinking about this, the inability to say no seems to be a predominantly female trait. I cannot think of any men in my life who struggle with saying no.

    1. Hi Jen — You are so right. I find that Mr. Magpie has no problem saying no, and will often turn it into a joke when he declines an invitation, a sort of amusing ploy to clearly say no and make the conversation light-hearted. I cannot figure out how to achieve the same effect.

      It really is a balance, though…!

  4. My mother always told me ‘don’t burn bridges’ so I agree that a gradual dissolution of a friendship is better than a formal ending conversation although the gradual dissolution can also backfire … you may anger the person and that ends the friendship. badly anyway…… I agree with your mom — be honest— I admire her friends honesty about the ballet!

    1. Hi! So good to hear from you. Agreed, burning bridges is generally unwarranted and unproductive. I suppose that it’s always on a case-by-case basis, though. There are some circumstances where being upfront/honest seems like the right thing to do, and others where a quiet drifting apart feels more appropriate. xo

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