"Etiquette" is the one word that aptly describes life during the reign of Queen Victoria.


The Upper and Upper-Middle Class

For those in the upper echelons of society, rules such as the proper forms of address, and even what to wear (including which pieces of jewellery would be appropriate) were all considered very important.

From the slightest burp (social ruin if it was heard) to how a gentleman spoke to a young lady, Victorian society was greatly concerned with every aspect of daily life. From the moment the upper class left their beds, their days were governed by do's and don'ts.

The horror of social ostracism was paramount. To be caught in the wrong fashion at the wrong time of day was as greatly to be feared as addressing a member of society by the wrong title.

It was important to know whom you could speak with - especially if you hadn't been properly introduced. For a woman, being asked to dance by a complete stranger could pose an etiquette problem which might have repercussions for days.

Young ladies were constantly chaperoned. To be found alone with a gentleman who was other than family was tantamount to social death. Her reputation would be ruined and her gentleman companion would find himself the object of gossip, and most usually derision.

The established career for society women was marriage - full stop. They were expected to represent their husbands with grace and provide absolutely no scandal. Charity work would be accepted, but only if it was very gentile... sewing for the poor, or putting together food baskets.

Gentlemen had to keep track of when it was proper to either smoke or have a glass of sherry in front of ladies. When to bow and to whom to tip your hat could cause gossip if the wrong decision was made.

Members of Victorian society kept busy with parties, dances, visits, dressmakers, and tailors. Keeping track of what other people in your social class were doing was also a full-time occupation.

The People in the Middle

Being a servant in one of the grand Victorian houses was a position which would guarantee shelter and food. However, there was etiquette to be learned.

The upper class was never to be addressed unless it was absolutely necessary. If that was the case, as few words as possible were to be uttered.

Using the proper title was of the utmost importance. "Ma'am" or "Sir" was always appropriate. If "Ma'am" was seen, it was necessary that you 'disappear', turning to face the wall and avoiding eye contact.

Life was easier, though, amidst your fellow servants. Although private fraternization was frowned upon, it wasn't against the rules for those 'below stairs' to enjoy singing, dancing, and other social activities together.

Quite often the 'upper class' of the servant world, the butler and housekeeper, would put aside their lofty roles in the household and join their fellow servants in gaiety. But come the morning, they would reign supreme once again.

Having a profession was another way of being a member of the middle class of Victorian society. Shopkeepers, doctors, nurses, a schoolmaster, or parish priest were all notable professions.

Often times, the only difference between being a member of the upper-middle and the middle class was the amount of wealth you had gathered, and how it was flaunted.

Another indicator was the number of servants you employed. Having more than one servant was a sure sign that you had money.

Sometimes, the 'uppers' and the 'middlers' would mingle. If the proper introductions could be managed, it was possible for a tradesman to receive backing from a prominent 'upper' member. With a successful business deal, both parties could increase their wealth and for the 'middler', their station in life.

The Lower Class

For the lower class, the poor, there wasn't time for etiquette.

Victorian society did not recognize that there was a lower class.

'The Poor' were invisible. Those members of England who worked as chimney sweeps, ratcatchers, or spent their days in factories had no place in the echelon of the upper class, although their services would be needed from time to time.

The prevailing attitude was that the poor deserved the way they lived. If good moral choices had been made, the poor wouldn't be living the way they did.

The best way for society to deal with the poor was to ignore them. They were 'burdens on the public'.

There were people who cared, however. Unfortunately, in trying to help the lower class, conditions usually did not improve. Workhouses were developed, but the living was horrendous and it was almost better to be back on the street.

Being just too busy trying to survive, etiquette played little part in the poor's daily existence. But that's not to say that pride wasn't available. There was a 'social stigma' to applying for aid, and some families preferred to keep to themselves and figure out their own methods of survival.

Although Poor Laws were put into place, it wasn't until after the Victorian age ended that 'the lower class' was able, through education, technology, and reform, to raise itself, in some cases literally, out of the gutter.

Victorian society could be quite pleasant, but only depending on your financial status.

Following are some rules of conduct a proper female must adhere to:

She never approached people of higher rank, unless being introduced by a mutual friend.
People of lesser rank were always introduced to people of higher rank, and then only if the higher-ranking person had given his/her permission.
Even after being introduced, the person of higher rank did not have to maintain the acquaintance. They could ignore, or 'cut' the person of lower rank.
A single woman never addressed a gentleman without an introduction.
A single woman never walked out alone. Her chaperone had to be older and preferably married.
If she had progressed to the stage of courtship in which she walked out with a gentleman, they always walked apart. A gentleman could offer his hand over rough spots, the only contact he was allowed with a woman who was not his fianc�.
Proper women never rode alone in a closed carriage with a man who wasn't a relative.
She would never call upon an unmarried gentleman at his place of residence.
She couldn't receive a man at home if she was alone. Another family member had to be present in the room.
A gentlewoman never looked back after anyone in the street, or turned to stare at others at church, the opera, etc.
No impure conversations were held in front of single women.
No sexual contact was allowed before marriage. Innocence was demanded by men from girls in his class, and most especially from his future wife.
Intelligence was not encouraged, nor was any interest in politics.


-- Etiquette played its part in Victorian clothing. It was considered 'good etiquette' to dress appropriately to ones age, and position in society.
-- Etiquette manuals instructed gentlemen that they should attend to the ladies present, at all cost, putting aside their own needs, and acting as servants, guides, or even waiters, if necessary.
-- "It is the duty of the gentlemen to be ever attentive to the ladies. If it be a picnic, the gentlemen will carry the luncheon, erect the swings, construct the tables, bring the water, and provide the fuel for boiling tea."
-- A lady cannot refuse the invitation of a gentleman to dance, unless she has already accepted that of another, for she would be guilty of an incivility which might occasion trouble; she would, moreover, seem to show contempt for him whom she refused, and would expose herself to receive in secret an ill compliment from the mistress of the house.
-- Married or young ladies, cannot leave a ball-room or any other party, alone. The former should be accompanied by one or two other married ladies, and the latter by their mother, or by a lady to represent her.
-- Victorian girls were trained early on in life to prepare herself for a life dedicated to home and family if she married, and charity if she didn't. And young ladies, though advised on the importance of catching a man, were warned not to be too liberal in display of their charms. Meekness and modesty were considered beautiful virtues.
writing -- Invitations should be sent at least seven to ten days before the day fixed for an event, and should be replied to within a week of their receipt, accepting or declining with regrets.
-- Never lend a borrowed book. Be particular to return one that has been loaned to you, and accompany it with a note of thanks. -- Rise to one's feet as respect for an older person or dignitary.
-- A true gentleman tips their hat to greet a lady, opens doors, and always walks on the outside.
-- Break bread or roll into morsels rather than eating the bread whole.
-- Conversation is not to talk continually, but to listen and speak in our turn.
-- And as for the Gentlemen, they should be seen and not smelled. They should use but very little perfume, as too much of it is in bad taste.
-- A lady, when crossing the street, must raise her dress a bit above the ankle while holding the folds of her gown together in her right hand and drawing them toward the right. It was considered vulgar to raise the dress with both hands as it would show too much ankle, but was tolerated for a moment when the mud is very deep. As told by The Lady's Guide to Perfect Gentility.
-- A young lady should be expected to shine in the art of conversation, but not too brightly. Etiquette books of the era concentrate on the voice, rather than the content of speech, encouraging her to cultivate that distinct but subdued tone.
-- When introduced to a man, a lady should never offer her hand, merely bow politely and say, "I am happy to make your acquaintance."
-- While courting, a gentleman caller might bring only certain gifts such as flowers, candy or a book. A woman could not offer a gentleman any present at all until he had extended one to her, and then something artistic, handmade and inexpensive was permissible.
-- Young people should not expect friends to bestow wedding gifts. It is a custom that sometimes bears heavily on those with little to spend. Gifts should only be given by those with ties of relationship, or those who wish to extend a warm sentiment of affection. In fact, by 1873 the words 'No presents' received are engraved upon the cards of invitations.
-- A gentleman may delicately kiss a lady's hand, the forehead, or at most, the cheek.


A Complete Etiquette in a Few Practical Rules

1. If you desire to be respected, keep clean. The finest attire and decorations will add nothing to the appearance or beauty of an untidy person.
2. Clean clothing, clean skin, clean hands, including the nails, and clean, white teeth, are a requisite passport for good society.
3. A bad breath should be carefully remedied, whether it proceeds from the stomach or bad teeth.
4. To pick the nose, finger about the ears, or scratch the head or any other part of the person, in company, is decidedly vulgar.
5. When you call at any private residence, do not neglect to clean your shoes thoroughly.
6. On entering a hall or church, the gentleman should always precede the lady in walking up the aisle, or walk by herside if the aisle is broad enough.
7. A gentleman should always precede a lady upstairs, and follow her downstairs.
8. On leaving a hall or church at the close of entertainment or services, the gentleman should precede the lady.
9. A gentleman walking with a lady should carry her parcels, and never allow a lady to be burdened with anything whatever.
10. If a lady is travelling with a gentleman, simply as a friend, she should place the amount of her expenses in his hands, or insist on paying the bill herself.
11. Never carry on a private conversation in company. If secrecy is necessary, withdraw from the company.
12. Never sit with your back to another, without asking to be excused.
13. It is as unbecoming for a gentleman to sit with legs crossed as it is a lady.
14. Never thrum with your fingers, rub your hands, yawn or sigh in public.
15. Loud laughter, loud talking, or other boisterous manifestations should be checked in the society of others, especially on the street and in public places.
16. When you are asked to sing or play in company, do so without being urged, or refuse in any way that shall be final; and when music is being rendered in company, show politelness to the musician by giving attention. It is very impolite to keep up a conversation. If you do not enjoy the music, keep silent.
17. You should never decline to be intorduced to anyone or all the guests at a party to which you have been invited.
18. To take small children or dogs with you on a visit of ceremony is altogether vulgar, though in visiting familiar friends, children are not objectionable.


Amiability and self-command. — Where the manners indicate amiable, moral qualities and a gentle and benignant spirit, this will go far to atone for any lesser imperfections by which they may be marked. Nevertheless, it is not only desirable that you should appear amiable, but unconstrained; that you should feel at ease yourself, and be able to put others at ease around you.

You will be placed, almost of course, in a variety of situations. It is important that you should have that habitual self-command that will enable you readily to accommodate yourself to the peculiarities of each; and, at least, to conceal from those around you the secret that you are not perfectly at home. Possibly this is not essential to your passing in good society, but it certainly is essential to the perfection of good manners.

Good society a means of improvement — It is of great importance, in the formation of good manners, that a young lady should be accustomed to mingle in good society. It is not necessary that you should select all your associates from the more elevated walks of life, for this would be likely to unfit you for mingling with ease and advantage among the less refined; but so much intercourse with cultivated persons as will permit you to feel perfectly at home is very desirable, and will enable you to combine in your manners both elegance and refinement.

It is a rare instance indeed, that a young female, who is habitually accustomed to society of a rude or grovelling character, ever becomes dignified or graceful in her own manners; and on the other hand, where her intimate associates are persons of intelligence and refinement, it is almost a matter of course that she becomes conformed, in a good degree, to the models with which she is conversant.

Servile imitation to be avoided — The privilege of good society, in the formation of manners, should be highly esteemed, but care should be taken to guard against servile imitation. You may have a friend, whose manners seem to you to combine every quality that is necessary to render them a perfect model; who unites elegant simplicity with generous frankness, and dignified address with winning condescension who, in short, is everything, in this respect, that you could wish to be yourself; but, after all, it would be unwise in you to become a servile copyist even of such manners. For you are to remember that a certain cast of manners suits a certain cast of character; and, unless your character were precisely that of the individual whom you would imitate, you would, in attempting to assume her address, deservedly expose yourself to the charge of affectation.

You will, therefore, do yourself much better service by looking at good models in a general manner, and by endeavoring to become. imbued with their spirit, than by making any direct efforts to become exactly conformed to them. Indeed, it may be doubted whether you will not reap every possible advantage by simply mingling in their society, with out ever thinking of them as models.

The folly of affectation — More particularly, young ladies should guard themselves against affectation. This is very easily acquired, and is so common a fault that the absence of it is always remarked as a great excellence. Some persons of many amiable qualities, and considerable intelligence, have been absolutely spoiled for society by attempting to assume in their manners what did not belong to them. Wherever anything of this kind exists, it requires but little sagacity to detect it; and even those who are not exactly sensible where the evil lies, are still aware that there is something which needs to be corrected.

It happens, however, too frequently, that what is quite palpable to everybody else, escapes the observation of the individual who is the subject of it; and the cases are frequent, in which the kindest intimation of the fact, from a friend, has been met with expressions of resentment. You should have not only your eyes open, to inspect narrowly your own conduct on this point, but your ears also open to any admonition, that you may detect the fault if it really exist.

Affectation is justly regarded as consummate folly; and unless it happens to be associated with an unusual cluster of real excellences, it brings upon the individual little less than absolute contempt. Let your manners be as much improved as they may, but regard it as essential that they should be your own.

Diffidence preferable to ostentation — Beware, also, of an ostentatious manner. By this is meant that kind of manner which savors too much of display; which indicates a disposition to make yourself too conspicuous; and which, in short, is the acting out of a spirit of self-confidence and self-conceit. This appears badly enough when discovered in one of the opposite sex; but when seen in a young lady, it is quite intolerable. Liability to embarrassment from every slight change of circumstances, and an awkward bashfulness, are not to be commended; but between these and an ostentatious manner, there is a happy medium, consisting of a due mixture of confidence and modesty, which will be equally pleasant to yourself and those with whom you associate.

If, however, either of these extremes must be followed, it will be found that diffidence will be more readily pardoned than ostentation. It would be preferable to excite by your bashfulness a feeling of compassion, than, by your excessive confidence, a feeling of disgust.

Undue reserve causes anger or distrust — While ostentation is to be avoided, it is well to be on your guard against a studied reserve. We sometimes meet with persons whose manners leave upon our mind the painful impression that they are afraid to trust us, and that they regard both our actions and words with suspicion.

Wherever this trait appears, it is almost certain to excite anger or disgust. Most persons will bear anything with more patience than to be told, either directly or indirectly, that they are unworthy of confidence. A significant smile, or nod, or look, with a third person which is intended not to be understood by the individual with whom you are conversing, is a gross violation of propriety, and has often cost a deeply-wounded sensibility, and some times a valued friendship.

While you studiously avoid everything of this kind, let your manners be characterized by a noble frankness, which, in whatever circumstances you are placed, shall leave no doubt of your sincerity.

Pride and overbearance always odious — Avoid every approach to a haughty and overbearing manner. It is exhibition of pride, which is one of the most hateful of all dispositions; and of pride in one of its most odious forms. If you should be so unhappy as to form an example of it, whatever variety of feeling it might excite among your associates, you may rely on it, they would all agree to despise you. As you value your character and use fulness, be always courteous and affable.

References: ETIQUETTE

Etiquette Politeness Parties In General
The Visiting Guest   Calling Etiquette
Conversation Etiquette   Public Amusement
Attending Balls Dinner Parties Formal Dinners

Dance Influence of Dance Guests
Music French Terms Order of Dances
Programme Gentlemen Guide Deportment
Ladies Toilette Refreshments Sociables
La Tempete       Quadrille
Round Dances Spanish Dance Square Dances
Virginia Reel Polka Waltz