How to Take a Compliment, According to an Etiquette Expert

In an age of #gratitude and being #blessed, do you think we've become better or worse at taking compliments? Via social media, it's easy to respond to people. I reply to friendly, flattering comments on my Instagram account like it's NBD with smiley faces and thank-yous. However, in real life, I become incredibly awkward about the same compliments. I'll quickly come up with something self-deprecating to diffuse the attention or share an embarrassing story (one that's often barely related) so that I don't look or feel totally up myself.

Is that rude or modest? Irritating or actually quite sweet? Perhaps it makes it seem as though I lack confidence? I wasn't really sure, so I sought the expert opinion of an etiquette coach. Isobel Kershaw is a guru in this field and is part of the British School of Etiquette. She's the resident stylist as well as the founder and director of personal styling company The Stylist London, meaning she fully understands the kind of outfit or looks-orientated compliments we're talking about. Here's what she had to say on the matter…

Say Thank You

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"Say thank you! The British aren't great, in general, at accepting compliments and have difficulty in appreciating them," Kershaw explains, but the polite thing to do is to say a very simple thank-you.

Don't Feel Pressured to Elaborate

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Kershaw says you shouldn't feel pressured to elaborate on the compliment unless it's genuine: "There's nothing worse than hearing a compliment that isn't genuine—it's pointless." Cool. So that takes the heat off that situation.

You Can Elaborate (If You Want to) and Still Remain Modest

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"If you want to elaborate on the compliment, you can show appreciation for what they're complimenting whilst being modest," says Kershaw. "If it's about what you're wearing, you may want to mention how the outfit makes you feel." If the compliment is about how you look, Kershaw says it's acceptable to issue a thank-you. If you feel the need, you can also say how much effort you put into looking good that day.

Do Not Talk About Money

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Although Kershaw confirms that it's polite to expand upon why you feel happy about an outfit or how you look, it would be rather uncouth to talk about how much something cost. "Depending on the audience, it may not be etiquette to say if it's a designer rather than high street, in terms of whether it will intimidate," she says.

Your Positive Reaction Can Spark Inspiration

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"Etiquette is all about being mindful of how you make your audience feel, so the response should be polite, appreciative and, if appropriate, inspirational," says Kershaw. "If you are inspiring other women in terms of what you look like, it will make you feel great if they can walk away being inspired to achieve something similar for themselves."

A motto that Kershaw often revisits? "Be inspired by the beautiful woman sitting next to you rather than threatened." Diana Vreeland, a renowned Vogue and Harper's Bazaar editor, once said this—and it's worth remembering.

"Verbalising that by a compliment makes both yourself and the recipient feel good," she confirms. Now that's an idea we can definitely get on board with here at Who What Wear UK.

Next up, see the winter outfit ideas we love.