Etiquette in Victorian London

Etiquette today is much different than it was back in the Victorian Era (1837 to 1901). In London, there were specific rules and expectations that men and women had to follow in order to be considered a “lady” or a “gentleman.” Many books, newspapers and magazines were distributed, teaching Victorian ladies and gentlemen how to behave properly according to the expectations of society. The goal of a Victorian lady was to please her husband and serve others.

Here are some of the most common, most interesting and simply bizarre guidelines that were outlined in Victorian London:

Westminster Abbey

The Westminster Abbey Shop

Ballroom

  1. A lady should not attend a ball without an escort and should never be left unattended (it is rude for a woman to be alone at a ball).
  2. Ladies have to make dancing look effortless and move gracefully.

 

Dressing Room

  1. A lady is required to make herself look beautiful, even if it involves tricks (cover up and hide all of her imperfections).
  2. A lady has to make it look effortless to be beautiful.
  3. It is proper to wear your hair up if you are a lady.
  4. Nobody except the lady can enter her dressing room or “sanctuary.”
  5. Colors are preferred in ladies’ dresses.
  6. Everyone must take a bath at least once a day, with less than a quart of water.

Dinner Table

  1. The linen and utensils must be perfectly clean and set out properly.
  2. It is improper to have lights, flower-shaped objects or raised dishes cutting off the conversation between guests.
  3. A gentleman’s escort is always seated to his left.
  4. A married couple never sits together.
  5. A napkin must always be used before and after drinking.

Street

  1. A gentleman must never swear.
  2. A gentleman must never engage in excited conversation – it attracts attention.
  3. A lady must never talk or laugh loudly – it attracts attention.
  4. A lady usually takes the right arm of a gentleman.
  5. When walking in the street, a gentleman must always recognize his friends by lifting his hat – never ignore an acquaintance.
  6. If you pass a lady or an elder, let them walk on the side that is next to the buildings.
  7. A lady must always give the first smile.
  8. A gentleman should never bow to a lady on the street while looking out his window.
  9. If a lady has to step over something, she must raise her dress a little above the ankle with her right hand only – using both hands is considered vulgar.

Afternoon Tea

  1. Tea should never be brewed in the cup – only in the pot.
  2. An afternoon tea invitation should always be printed on elegant stationary.

General

  1. A gentleman must always remain standing until all of the ladies in the room are seated.
  2. A gentleman never lets a lady perform any service for herself – he must perform these for her (get a chair, pick up something that she dropped).
  3. A person with bright red hair should marry someone with black hair.

Conversation

  1. A person should never socialize with someone who has bad manners.
  2. Always ask to be excused – never turn your back on someone (even if simply opening a door or a window).
  3. It is considered vulgar to brag about oneself.
  4. If involved in polite conversation, do not introduce an interesting topic – it may lead to a lengthy conversation.
  5. A gentleman must not show his knowledge or accomplishments in front of ignorant people.

Introduction

  1. Ladies curtsey and men bow when being introduced.
  2. When being introduced, the people must rise to their feet.
  3. Always present the youngest to the oldest and the humblest to the highest.

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