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?
We’ve seen the financial, legal, and emotional costs of a courtship gone wrong and culminating in a suit for breach of promise. In Victorian America, where such a consequence was possible if not common enough (to scare a young swain or two), advice of how to break up an unhealthy courtship–or cancel a planned wedding–must have been given by mothers, fathers, society matrons, and “Dear Abby’s” of the day. Indeed they did! This article includes quotes from 3 era-specific books published during the time period.
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.