Pieces of Tips : Etiquette of the Victorian Era That Need to Make a Comeback

No baubles needed to impress the ladies
Sorry, girls! If you were a female in the Victorian era, jewelry and fancy gifts were unacceptable overtures from that special someone. That was especially true if you weren’t engaged or related. According to Victoria-era.org and etiquette expert of the 1870s – 1890s, Professor Thomas E.

Hill, there were only four items a lady could accept from a gentleman without causing a stir; books, confectionery, flowers, or sheet music. Since flowers and food were perishable they left no obligation upon the lady receiving them. Perhaps books and sheet music got a pass as they occupy your mind and therefore provided distraction from thinking about a beau.

Rest at ease with a chaperone on duty
Back then you didn’t have to worry too much about your daughter sneaking around with the boy next door. That was big time taboo for both sexes as it could risk more than your reputation, it could socially ruin you. It was also a good way to keep Grandma busy.

A gentleman and young lady would always be accompanied by a chaperone and usually that was an elderly relative. Only after marriage were man and woman allowed to frolic on their own.

Being respectable was a virtue
Discretion was taken to heart back then. Disgracing one’s family with scandal was the ultimate betrayal. Of course there was gossip among the upper class and secrets. After all, even our modern day Queen Elizabeth II has had to deal with many rumors and scandal during her reign. But both women and men of station at least tried to refrain from making a spectacle of themselves. So it’s unlikely you’d find any guests to be on the Housewives of Victorian England. 

The art of talk
Discussing politics in the company of guests would be deemed a bad idea in any era. In the days of Queen Victoria, being adept at the art of conversation while cultivating polite manners was a talent. However, there was a distinct difference between appearing charming and appearing as a smarty-pants. Etiquette books of the era concentrated on perfecting the lilt and tone of voice versus content. 

Crossing the street had rules
When crossing the street, a proper lady would lift her dress a bit above her ankle while holding the folds of her gown together in her right hand and drawing them toward the right.

The Lady’s Guide to Perfect Gentility directed women to avoid using two hands as you could end up giving everyone a free show of too much ankle—the horror! However, if both hands were needed to avoid a mud bath than society would look the other way.

Children were taught to dine
There’d be no allowances for young children running rampant around the table during Victorian mealtime. On most occasions children ate separately from their parents. No slouching! Those chair backs were not for leaning, just decoration. Tough as love nannies would place knives on dining room chairs so that children would learn to sit upright. 

Don’t be a cheater
“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” was certainly not the mantra back in Victorian England. Although playing cards was a pastime there were social norms to follow. According to Thomas E. Hill in his Manual of Social and Business Forums, “If possible, do not violate the rules of the game and do not cheat.

Should you observe anyone cheating, quietly and very politely call it to his attention, and be careful that you do not get excited. People who experience ill-feeling at the game should avoid playing.”

Never say no to karaoke
Don’t be a party pooper. If your hosts asks you to belt out a tune you should accommodate him or her, right? But that was not an option over 150 years ago. One etiquette book from the time notes that if a gentleman was invited to sing and felt sufficiently sure his entertainment would provide pleasure, he was to comply immediately with the request. If, however, he refused, he was to “remain firm in refusal as to yield after once refusing is a breach of etiquette.”

Ladies were treated like queens
Not sure what guys in the 1800s did to irk Queen Victoria, but there were a lot of rules for a gentleman to remember if he didn’t want to be seen as exhibiting vulgar behavior. Here’s a list of the basics of how to treat a lady Victorian style:
  • Stand when a lady enters a room.
  • Stand when a lady stands.
  • Offer a lady your seat if no other seat is available.
  • Assist the lady with her chair when she sits or stands. Especially at a table.
  • Retrieve dropped items for a lady.
  • Open doors for a lady.
  • Help a lady with her coat, cloak or shawl.

The afternoon tea party
While drinking tea as a fashionable event is credited to Catharine of Braganza, the actual taking of tea in the afternoon developed into a new social event some time in the late 1830s and early 1840s, according to the website afternoontoremember.com. The custom was potentially started by Anne, Duchess of Bedford when she requested that light sandwiches be brought to her in the late afternoon because she had a “sinking feeling” due to the long gap between meals.

You could be a little late
Running behind the clock was sometimes OK in the 1800s. There were occasions when arriving on time was considered rude, says Town & Country. The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook of Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen mentions that country affairs are distinct from those in-town where arriving an hour after the time on the invitation would be “an unwarrantable assumption of fashion.”

Playing the piano made you desirable
If you could bang out a tune on a baby grand you would be seen as quite a catch. Music was a very important component of social gatherings in upper class homes. And being able to play well was one way a woman could distinguish herself from the rest of her fellow socialites. Many young women were expected to play at social gatherings and functions.