Victorian Era Etiquette and Manners

Old-Fashioned Rules for Good Behavior

By Irwin Ross
December 2, 2020

There were countless rules of social manners and etiquette during the Victorian Era (1837-1901), though they now may 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 Forms, first published in 1875. Here are some of our favorite practices of social etiquette from the Victorian Era. (Note: 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? 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!


The 1973 Old Farmer's Almanac


Reader Comments

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Kissing on the mouth

I taught my child only husbands & wives kiss on the mouth. Fathers & mothers (or any adult ) shouldn't be kissing their daughters & sons ( or any children ) on the mouth.

Victorian etiquette

I'm in violation of the rules. I am a flaming red head who married a blond!

Victorian Etiquette

In the Victorian era, if you were serving liqueur to a guest, you would serve it from an elegant decanter which had a stopper. You as the hostess would remove the stopper, pour your guest their drink then hand it to them. The key here is what you did with the stopper. If you replace the stopper back on the decanter, your actions are telling the guest that here is a drink, enjoy, but there will be no more. If you hand your guest their drink and place the stopper on the table next to the decanter, you are telling the guest, here is your first drink and you are welcome to have more if you wish.


At a high school in Cobourg, Ontario they had an etiquette list in a display for teachers from the 1880's (opened in the mid 1800's). Two or three I remember was that a teacher should never get a shave at the barber's (because it was expensive and you are showing off, by being seen there), they had to read good books, they could only court on Sundays with a chaperone, they had to bring their share of firewood to heat the school, among the many others.

There was a time when there was a sense of ethics, proper conduct and community togetherness. Now everyone thinks they succeed only by themselves and that is no repercussion for being vulgar.

People Have No Manners These Days

I feel its such a shame that people these days have no manners. I never get a please and thank you. I hate when they say "no problem". I feel like society is declining fast.


Saying "No problem" means different things to different people though. In my generation, asking someone for help almost feels like you're being bothersome to that person, and so when someone says "thank you" to us, we want them to know that it was our pleasure to help them - the person asking for help wasn't a bother. It's not being rude, it's just a generational difference. To millennials, it means the same as "you're welcome." Nothing to get upset about.


This was very helpful. It gave a lot of good information for my report.


This helped so much for the report I had to write!!


It helped me too Jack


Ya Boi JB is always Lookin' FRESSHHH**!!


Just got to finally the beautiful version by the BBC of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice " with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. A tremendous amount of information about the Etiquette regarding everyday living. Mind boggling by today's standards.

I love that book, Pride and

I love that book, Pride and Prejudice. However if you don't want to be scarred for life, never, ever read the Romance of Lust, a classic Victorian novel. I'm also of the opinion kissing on the mouth is for husband and wife only, pretty gross anything else.

advice for husbands, and the kissing advice.

my husband and I are older and use an electric sidewalk scooter (like you see in stores) as our second vehicle, because we live close to everything. Every time, one of us leaves on it, we say , "I love you, be careful. " the other one always answers, "ok, I'll be careful, I love you too" this is good advice in any era. My grandmother always said not to kiss your children, (or other people), on the lips because it spreads colds and the flu, she loved my mother and always gave her a hug and and a kiss on both cheeks, the same with my sister and I.

Victorian Rules:

The rules regarding visiting and personal cards could fill an entire chapter! There were specific details of when, where and how cards were to be given, received, and even if corners of cards were turned which message was given. Obviously too much thought given to something that very few needed to aspire to do.


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.!!!!

Kissing as a greeting

I kiss my daughter every time I see her & evry time we part, and on the mouth! It's a custom we've had since she was a child. However, my mother would never kisss me on the mouth....

kissing on the mouth

My Mom always said that kissing on the mouth is for your husband only(or wife)! She is from Boston so that might be an old New England thing..

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