Tag: Etiquette

Madam, Ma’am, or Miss: Proper Address for Unmarried Young Ladies

La Mode, 1836.
(Met Museum)

During the nineteenth century, the proper address for an unmarried young lady was very much a matter of rank—both the rank of the one being addressed and the one doing the addressing. For instance, a maidservant might acknowledge a command given by her young unmarried mistress by saying “Yes, miss.” Whereas a gentleman might address the same unmarried young lady with a “Yes, madam” or “Yes, ma’am.” […]Continue Reading


Victorian Dining Etiquette: Common Sense Advice for Eating in Company

Dinner by Albert von Keller, 1891.

With the holiday season well under way, it seems an appropriate time to review a few of the many Victorian era rules for dining in company. The etiquette of the table hasn’t changed a great deal over the years. Some rules are merely a matter of basic common sense. Nevertheless, we could all do with a refresher now and then. To that end, I’ve gathered ten tips from various Victorian era etiquette books and articles addressing the basics of dining etiquette. I present them to you below.[…]Continue Reading


On Elbows, Etiquette, and Evening Gloves

Sogni (Dreams) by Vittorio Matteo Corcos, 1896.
(Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna)

I can honestly say that I’ve never really paid attention to elbows. Certainly not as much as the Victorians seemed to do. They prized a delicately rounded female elbow—and abhorred one that was too sharp and pointy. Even gentlemen fell in for their share of elbow shaming. According to Victorian etiquette manuals, a pointy male elbow was worse than unattractive. It could also be dangerous. As the author of The Etiquette of Love, Courtship, and Marriage (1859) relates:[…]Continue Reading


An Informal Afternoon Tea: Etiquette, Fashion, and Excess in the Late 19th Century

5 O’Clock Tea by David Comba Adamson (1859-1926), n.d.
(© Dundee Art Gallery and Museum)

During the late nineteenth century, an afternoon tea was one of the most informal entertainments to which a fashionable lady could invite her friends and acquaintances. The menu was simple, as were the dress requirements, and etiquette only required that a guest stay—at minimum—half an hour. It was an easy method of entertaining and one that soon grew in both popularity and extravagance, leading an 1895 edition of Table Talk to declare that the once inexpensive ritual had evolved into “a party in the daytime…[a] large, gas lighted ball at five o’clock where half of the ladies were in décolleté dresses, the other in fur tippets.”[…]Continue Reading


The Etiquette of the Victorian Handshake: Advice on Opposite Sex Greetings

“Among friends the shaking of the hand is the most genuine and cordial expression of good-will.”

The Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Etiquette, 1877.

Yes by John Everett Millais, 1877.

When we think of nineteenth century greetings, many of us naturally picture bows, curtsies, and subtle inclinations of the head. But these were not the only types of gestures with which to greet one’s friends and acquaintances. Fans of Elizabeth Gaskell will know that, in some cases, a handshake was equally appropriate. In her 1855 novel North and South, John Thornton, a northerner, regularly shakes hands with his friends. Southerner Margaret Hale, however, is unfamiliar with the custom. In one of the most memorable scenes from the novel, Gaskell writes:[…]Continue Reading


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