Etiquette and Manners in the Victorian Era

Old-Fashioned Rules for Good Behavior

Irwin Ross

There were countless rules of social manners and etiquette during the Victorian Era, and they now seem a bit old-fashioned.

To guide the uninitiated, Thomas E. Hill compiled a list of dos and don’ts in his Manual of Social and Business Forums. Here are some of our favorite practices of social etiquette from the Victorian Era. (Requires a sense of humor!)

Hygiene Etiquette

  • Bathing: “Upon arising, take a complete bath. A simple washing out of the eyes is not sufficient. The complete bathing of the body once each day is of the utmost importance. Not more than a quart of water is necessary, preferably rainwater.”

  • Hair: “The head should be washed occasionally with soap and water. When the hair is inclined to be harsh and dry, a moderate application of bear’s grease or other dressing should be used.”

  • Skin: “Beware of exterior applications of cosmetics. Instead, once every two or three months, take a teaspoonful of powdered charcoal mixed with sweetened water or milk. This will prove efficacious in making the complexion clear and transparent.”

  • Kissing: “Upon the meeting of intimate friends, among ladies, at the private house, the kiss as a mode of salutation is yet common; but this is a custom which ought to be abolished for physiological and other reasons.”

Social Etiquette and Manners

  • Bowing: “A gentleman should not bow from a window to a lady on the street, though he may bow slightly from the street upon being recognized by a lady in a window. Such recognition should, however, generally be avoided, as gossip is likely to attach undue importance to it when seen by others.”

  • Dignity: “To greet someone by saying “Hello, old fellow” indicates ill-breeding. If you are approached in this vulgar manner, it is better to give a civil reply and address the person respectfully, in which case he is quite likely to be ashamed of his own conduct.”

  • Small talk: “No topic of absorbing interest may be admitted to polite conversation. It might lead to discussion.”

  • Conduct to avoid at the ball: “No gentleman should enter the ladies’ dressing room at a ball.”

  • Card-playing: “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.”

  • Marriage: “Anyone with bright red hair and a florid complexion should marry someone with jet-black hair. The very corpulent should marry the thin and spare, and the body, wiry, cold-blooded should marry the round-featured, warmhearted, emotional type.”

  • Husbands: “Always leave home with a tender goodbye and loving words. They may be the last.”

  • Train travel: “People with weak eyes should avoid reading on trains, and those with weak lungs should avoid talking.”

  • Street etiquette: “When crossing the pavement, a lady should raise her dress with the right hand, a little about the ankle. To raise the dress with both hands is vulgar and can only be excused when mud is very deep.”


The 1973 Old Farmer's Almanac

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I had to write a report and this helped soon much.

I loved the rule about

I loved the rule about husbands....When my husband was working (at a refinery, which is very dangerous work), I made sure, every single morning, that I'd go to the car with him, give him a kiss, and tell him I loved him. No matter if it was raining, snowing, hailing...I did it. I never knew if he'd be coming back. It's a good practice to make sure the person you love knows you love him!

The tip for husbands is still

The tip for husbands is still good today.

I would like to know how the

I would like to know how the aristocracy and their staff in the big homes got the timing right to be present outdoors to greet important arriving guests.

I can sort of believe later when the phone was in place that a
gate keeper could call to say that they would be coming shortly. But nevertheless there must of been a lot of scurrying
to line up in time for all of them.

Arriving guests

Back in those days, you didn't simply show up. The mail came twice a day, and no one would dream of arriving without letting their host know at what time to expect them.

wow this helps so much. I had

wow this helps so much. I had to teach on etiquette for lady and gentlemen tomorrow and thanks to this I will get it done!!!!!!!!

I found this interesting!

I found this interesting!

Thanks this helped quite a

Thanks this helped quite a lot Because I am writing a book set in this era and its helped me to understand it a little better.

Whoa. That is quite a few

Whoa. That is quite a few little ettiquitte rules. Kissing as a greeting is funny.!!!!

Nice I Didn't Know So Much

Nice I Didn't Know So Much Things About The Etiquette-ness they had to do back in the day