Rules for my Ancestors

How to live with fashion, gentility and honor in the 1860s.

While red, this seal (the phantom’s in the film Phantom of the Opera) is not recommended for business letters.

While red, this seal (the phantom’s in the film Phantom of the Opera) is not recommended for business letters.

25. Use red wax for business letters

(Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette, c. 1850)

Using “invite” to refer to an invitation is especially unbecoming if the invitation is engraved, as above.

Using “invite” to refer to an invitation is especially unbecoming if the invitation is engraved, as above.

24. An invitation is not an “invite”

"Above all, never speak or write of an invitation as "an invite." It is neither good breeding nor good English."

(Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette, c. 1850)

23. Keep stories short, original and probable

Those who introduce anecdotes into their conversation are warned that these should invariably be ‘short, witty, eloquent, new, and not far-fetched.’”

(Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette, c. 1850)

22. Keep calls short

Calls are, of course, visits. Telephones did not exist until the 1870s.

Visits of ceremony should be short. If even [sicthe conversation should have become animated, beware of letting your call exceed half-an-hour’s length. It is always better to let your friends regret than desire your withdrawal.”

(Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette, c. 1850)

21. Introduce the gentleman to the lady

Always introduce the gentleman to the lady—never the lady to the gentleman. The chivalry of etiquette assumes that the lady is invariably the superior in right of her sex, and that the gentleman is honoured in the introduction. This rule is to be observed even when the social rank of the gentleman is higher than that of the lady. Where the sexes are the same, always present the inferior to the superior.”

(Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette, c. 1850)

Start watching at 4:30 and continue on to Act II, part 1.2 if you enjoy it. Here, the dashing baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (as Eugene Onegin) shows us how not to behave at a ball (unless you want to kill your best friend in a duel and end up miserable from your sense of guilt and an unrequited love, as Eugene does).

20. Make sure your hairstyle is secure when you go to a dance

"Be very careful, when dressing for a ball, that the hair is firmly fastened, and the coiffure properly adjusted. Nothing is more annoying than to have the hair loosen or the head-dress fall off in a crowded ball room."

(Florence Hartley, The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness, 1860, via vintagedancers.org.)

19. Be careful when accepting and refusing dances, and never double-book yourself

"A young lady should be very careful how she refuses to dance with a gentleman; and above all she must take care not to accept two gentlemen for one dance. Many duels have resulted from this thoughtlessness."

(Mrs. Hale, Manners; or, Happy Homes and Good Society, 1868, via vintagedancers.org)