Etiquette governed much during the Victorian Era: courtship, marriage, mourning, letters, social calls, dancing, engagements and breaking of engagements, clothing…and men’s hats. When reading fiction and nonfiction alike, I’ve wondered about men tipping their hats to ladies, removing their hats (or not), giving their hats over to the butler (or not), wearing a Stetson inside or during a business meeting… What did good manners demand? How did a cowboy show respect? How did a lady know if a man hoped to stay awhile when he paid a call?
Etiquette governing balls and dances in the American Victorian era seems stuffy, old-fashioned, and strict to 21st century Americans. Every rule of decorum ensured good manners were in play, but most importantly, the moral purity and innocence of young women and young men were maintained. Etiquette governed everything from how a man asked a woman for a dance to how he could properly hold her hand while dancing, to how many dances that pair could have in one evening. This article contains the specifics propriety demanded, and the vintage sources where they may be found. Leap year turned some of the lady’s restrictions upon the men; see the true-to-history newspaper article from 1888 that starred in Sophia’s Leap-Year Courtship.
As with virtually all activities and behaviors in the Victorian Era, American society developed a set of etiquette rules governing bicycling. One might suppose this list is about signalling (hand gestures) or riding in pairs for protection. You might be quite surprised to see the lengthy list of do’s and dont’s [sic] offered up in a vintage newspaper article from 1895, and in various magazines of the day.
19th Century young ladies (and gentlemen) learned a great deal about etiquette from their mothers, finishing schools, and from the societal expectations around them. The true art of conversation was a significant skill taught and expected within society, whether Philadelphia’s Old Money or the rural frontier. After all, conversation was a key element of an evening’s entertainment, courtship, and the Victorian Era’s social expectations.
In an 1879 essay by Henry Ward Beecher, he persuades all to see that Old Maids may make the best of wives, for their youthful ways often pass right along with their marriageable years. Come mid-twenties, when a woman is an Old Maid, he argues she’s come into her prime of womanhood.
Beecher was, it seems, concerned about appearance.
What about those ladies who are consistently kind, gracious, and pleasant to be with? What of those good girls who finds no fault and never complains. Perhaps this Best Woman did make for the Best Victorian Wives.
Victorian-era American wisdom regarding romance, marriage, and courtship is fascinating! A collection of 19th century newspaper clippings provides a wide range of answers to the question: Who Makes the Best (Victorian) Wives? Throughout the late nineteenth century, much (conflicting) advice for the hymeneal-minded.
Note: Part of a blog series including Blondes are Favorites (Who Makes the Best (Victorian) Wives?).
The Art of Courtship: Vintage wisdom relayed from the mid-nineteenth century to a newspaperman thirty years later (in 1887) sheds light on choosing a wife, beginning a courtship, different types of girls (shy, coquette [flirt], “vidders” [widows], and old maids, etc.). Victorian attitudes are prevalent, including the general idea that the sick and infirm aren’t suitable to marriage (think of the children!). Everything you wished your great-great grandpa had told you about courting… and more.
Some Victorians spoke of oatmeal as if it were a mainstay of their diets. Others claimed oats were fit only for animal fodder or for use in baths to soften skin… but food? Ugh. No. Why were beliefs so polarized? Why did Victorian-Americans have an aversion to oats?
Etiquette and all that is deemed “good manners” morphs over time. Behavior that our nineteenth-century ancestors would find appropriate has largely disappeared, and today’s idea of a man’s best actions with his hat would appall our great-granddaddies. Specifically speaking, “Common Details of Western Historical Romance that are Historically Incorrect, Part 2” entails nineteenth century hat etiquette–specifically men in the company of women–and contains more vintage citations than my earlier post titled Hat Etiquette of the Victorian Era.