10 Victorian Etiquette Rules That Seem Ridiculous Now

And two that are still spot on!

Mel Bailey
Created by Mel Bailey
On Mar 29, 2017
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  1. 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.

Because bowing to a lady from a window would make your neighbors think that you were either knocking boots or about to knock boots. Apparently, bowing was like foreplay in Victorian times. A hat tip was practically getting to third base.

2. No topic of absorbing interest may be admitted to polite conversation. 

Victorian etiquette required small talk only. Glove length. Bustle width. Teacup height. Those subjects are all WAY too controversial. Bringing up lively subjects such as those could lead to a (gasp!) DISCUSSION!

3. Never examines the cards in the card basket, even though they may be kept in public view in a lady's parlor.

In Victorian times, callers would leave their cards in a basket in a lady's parlor. It wouldn't be very sporting to rifle through them just to see what kind of rabble was dropping in on the lady in question. In fact, it would be quite untoward. (Untoward was the Victorian equivalent of a dick move.) Speaking of dick moves though, why do you keep the basket in full public view if you don't want anyone to rifle through it?

4. When crossing a muddy street, a lady should raise her dress with the right hand just a little above the ankle

Because lifting her dress with both hands might show more than just the ankle. It might show the (SCANDAL!) shin, which in Victorian times was basically a hoo-ha shot.

5. When embarking on a carriage ride, the gentleman always sits with his back to the horses, allowing the lady to take the seat opposite him.

During the Victorian era, it was considered bad form for a gentleman to allow a horse to pass wind upon a lady's hair. Men of the best breeding caught the equine flatulence in their top hats and waved the offending vapors towards the carriage driver. This rule went completely unspoken, of course.

6. Even to kettle-drums, that institution for women, all the husbands must be invited.

It was also written somewhere that men should not accept an invitation to a Kettle-Drum no matter how many times asked. Thus began the great Kettle-Drum impasse of the 1800s.

7. 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.

The "Hello, Old Fellow" riots of 1842. No one was spared.

8. Morning calls will be made from 3 until 5, and it is considered very bad form for a lady not to be dressed during that time.

Victorian ladies used to run around calling on each other. If you weren't able to get dressed by 3 in the afternoon, tough biscuits! You were the one to be called upon, and may God help you if you weren't fully dressed by calling time. This rule seems especially strange to women of today who are loathe to put on a pair of ripped yoga pants for the UPS guy.

9. A lady may dance with a man twice in a row, but not three times.

Ladies who danced with a man once were given a dance card. Twice, she received a withering look. Three times? She received a scarlet letter to attach to her bosom.

10. During dinner, a gentleman converses with the lady to his right.

Not many know this now but, back then, women seated on the left were real wazz bags.

11. No gentleman should stand on street corners and make remarks about the ladies passing by.

This one still makes sense today. However, we might forgive this, if the cat-calling was delivered in the parlance of Victorian times. "Good lady! Yea and verily. I wouldst forfeit the use of my right arm for the chance to sup upon your fair and comely hindquarters!" It sounds so much better than, "Yo girl, I'd chop off a limb if you'd let me stick my face in that butt."

12. Never use the knife to carry food to the mouth.

Well, no. Of course you shouldn't do this. Someone might startle you by calling you an old fellow, and you might slip and cut off the lips.

Interested in learning more?

During the Victorian era, many books were read and written about Etiquette, mostly because they didn't have HBO Go and people had nothing better to do than write books about glove length. One of the most extensive tomes was the 581 page "Hills Manual of Social and Business Forms" written by scholar and apparent shut-in Thomas E. Hill. Another was "Sensible Etiquette of the Best Society, Customs, Manners, Morals, and Home Culture" by Clara Sophia Bloomfield-Moore, who apparently named her books like her parents named her.