Victorian ladies should consider the introduction of one acquaintance to another a matter of serious responsibility. When introducing a gentleman and a woman, the gentleman should always be introduced to the lady and never the other way around, and never with asking the lady for her permission first. The lady, so introduced, should never offer her hand. When the introduction involves two people of the same gender, the socially inferior acquaintance should always be introduced to the superior.
Morning visits should be paid between two and four p.m. in the winter and two and five in the summer. A card should be presented. Visits of condolence should be paid within the week of the sad event, and only by family and close friends. Acquaintances should simply leave a card with narrow mourning borders. In all cases, dogs and children should not be taken on such visits but should be left at home.
In conversation, proverbs and puns should be avoided at any cost and ladies should never indulge in a long argument, speak of religion, nor interrupt a person who is speaking. Ladies should be up to date on current events but should never discuss matters that they have no knowledge of. Gossip and whispering should be avoided at all times.
Letters should be replied to promptly on suitable paper. Dainty note paper is acceptable when writing to close friends but business letters should be penned on plain paper. Salutations should reflect the relationship to the recipient with “I am, my dear Madam, yours very faithfully,” being appropriate for someone with whom the writer is on friendly terms. All letters should be prepaid.
Attire should be appropriate to the time of day. Morning dress in the evening is vulgar. When in mourning, black and scarlet or black and violet are the preferred colours. Most jewelry should be avoided when attending a ball. Instead, wear beautiful flowers whether natural or artificial. Pearls are always appropriate for young and unmarried ladies.
Never be seen in the street without gloves; and never let your gloves be of any material that is not kid or calf. Worsted or cotton gloves are unutterably vulgar. ~Etiquette for Ladies
All well-ordered dinners begin with soup, whether in summer or winter. ~Etiquette for Ladies
Morning parties begin about two o’clock and end at about five. Evening parties begin about nine o’clock in the evening and end about midnight or later. It is not necessary to arrive at the beginning, nor to stay until the end of a party so attending several functions in one evening is perfectly acceptable.
Invitations to dine should be accepted or graciously declined at once. If you accept such an invitation, you must attend unless prevented from doing so due to serious illness or death.
Young ladies can take no more than three glasses of wine at dinner although married ladies may take even five or six. Unless you absolutely abstain, it is ill-mannered to decline to take wine if invited to do so. When responding to a toast, a sip is appropriate; emptying the glass is not.
Etiquette for Gentlemen
Never write a letter of introduction without first considering if the friend to whom you address it will want to meet the obligation. Such letters should be written on the finest quality paper and should be unsealed as a sign of your good faith.
If you are walking with one friend, and presently meet with, or are joined by, a third, do not commit the too frequent error of introducing them to each other. ~Etiquette for Gentlemen
Unless you are a snuff taker, never carry any but a white pocket-handkerchief. ~Etiquette for Gentlemen
When gentlemen converse with ladies, they should avoid topics such as politics, science or commerce, and instead choose topics that ladies are likely to be interested in.
Always write notes of invitation or acceptance in the third person. For example, “Mr. Smith has much pleasure in accepting Mr. Jones’ polite invitation for Monday evening, June the 14th inst.” Never use paper of any colour but white and never use sealing wax of any colour but red. A proper salutation begins with Sir or Madam and ends with “I have the honour to be your very obedient servant.”
When meeting an acquaintance, it is never acceptable to simply nod and touch your hat. Politeness demands that a man should always lift his hat from his head. When greeting a lady in this manner, always lift your hat with the hand that is furthest away from her. Should you be on horseback, always dismount before talking to a lady who is on foot. It is not polite to force her to look up to converse.
In the morning, wear frock coats, double-breasted waist coats and trousers of light or dark colours, depending on the season. A coat should never be too well fitted. It is better that the clothes appear to belong to the man, rather than the man appearing to belong to the clothes. Evening dress should always be black. A black cravat can be worn with full dress, but a white one is more elegant.
Invitations to a ball should be sent in the name of the lady of the house at least ten days prior to the event. A response should be forthcoming in two or three days at the most and should be addressed in the same manner as the invitation. If the invitation began “Dear Sir”, then the response should begin “Dear Madam”.
Whenever possible, a supper should be provided for dancing makes guests hungry. Ideally the supper should be sent in from some first-rate establishment, but when that is not an option, the home-cooked supper, however simple, should be good and abundant.
On arrival, guests should seek the lady of the house immediately and pay their respects.
No gentleman should ask a lady to dance unless he has previously met her acquaintance. An introduction can be arranged through the Master of Ceremonies or through the lady of the house or a member of her family. Should a lady be approached by a man to whom she has not been introduced, she should reply that she would accept his invitation with pleasure if he would first procure an introduction.
No gentleman should attend a ball unless he can dance. When dancing with a lady he should be careful not to injure her dress, for delicate skirts are easily torn. A gentleman should escort his last partner to supper, wait on her there, and afterwards escort her back to the ballroom.
Depart as quietly as possible so as not to let others see your departure. Should you meet your hostess on the way, take your leave of her discreetly, however do not seek her out for the purpose.
Routledge’s manual of etiquette. 1860. London: Routledge.