Victorian Era Social Etiquette and Manners | Traditional Old-Fashioned Rules | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Victorian Era Etiquette and Manners

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Women in the Victorian Era were careful to follow all social rules regarding manners and etiquette.

Old-Fashioned Rules for Good Behavior

Irwin Ross
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Are you on your best behavior? During the Victorian Era (1837-1901), there were countless rules of social manners and etiquette, though they now may seem a bit old-fashioned. When it comes to manners in the 19th century and Victorian social norms, there is certainly a lot to learn.

To guide the uninitiated, Thomas E. Hill compiled a list of dos and don’ts in his Manual of Social and Business Forms, first published in 1875. Here are some of our favorite practices of social etiquette for ladies and gentlemen from the Victorian Era. (Note: This 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.”

Want more folklore and stories of yesteryear? Check out 100 Ways to Avoid Dying or learn some Herbal Folklore!

Do you know of any other Victorian Era traditions or etiquette? Let us know in the comments!

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The Editors

Under the guiding hand of its first editor, Robert B. Thomas, the premiere issue of The Old Farmer’s Almanac was published in 1792. Read More from The Editors

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