The Victorian era was one of grace, elegance and vicious oppression of the working class. It was a time of fine social distinction, public prudery and private debauchery. Every woman was a lady at home (providing her family's annual income was above £50), and every man a gentleman except when fornicating with non-ladies forced into prostitution to feed the children of other gentlemen who had refused to marry beneath them. But how did the Victorians maintain their rigid social structure? How did they gauge the correct manner of behaviour for each encounter?
The answer, of course, is etiquette. A Victorian dowager could spot the ill manners of a nouveau riche American from five hundred yards, and could wed her youngest daughter to him before he'd finished his third cucumber sandwich. But such social skills did not come easily. Young children were educated not only in the skills necessary to exploit the natives of darker skinned nations - Ancient Greek and Rhetoric - but also in the social rules and expectations that would allow them to recognise a well scrubbed pleb in a dinner jacket and send him back to the gutter before he contaminated the syllabub.
From day one a Victorian child was groomed for a world of top hats and feathered fans, where a gentleman would always hold the door and a lady would never be seen picking up her own gloves even assuming the whale bones in her corset allowed her to bend. No matter how "out-dated" some of their rules may seem today, the laws of etiquette are there for the benefit of everyone. Would we not all be happier if the working class still worked and the Chinese knew their place - the laundry? For those of you that long for an era long gone by, here are some of the most useful tips for social etiquette that will allow you to stand apart from the common herd, to destroy that herd with a Maxim gun and have it made into a matching hat, coat and gloves.
Social Basics For the Young Lady
Upon being introduced to a gentleman, a lady will never offer her hand, nor should she hitch up her petticoats and invite him to "get an eyeful of what half a Guinea could buy you." Even a working-girl should maintain her dignity, no matter how far she has slipped below the standards God set out for her. She should bow politely and say "I am happy to make your acquaintance", while slipping her business card into one of the pockets of his morning suit. A lady does not leave her card in telephone kiosks. Nor does she express an interest in "water-sports" unless spending the Summer at Cannes.
When encountering an acquaintance whilst taking the air a lady may consider bowing on the street if accompanied by her father. In this situation it is appropriate to incline the head gracefully, but not the body. It is un ladylike to "bob" one's head up and down, mouth agape above an imaginary, handheld "belly-banana". Pressing one's tongue into the cheek in rhythm with the head movements is neither acceptable, nor amusing outside the world of Hollywood frat-house moving pictures.
Should one catch sight of an acquaintance on the other side of the road remember that a lady never looks back after anyone in the street, or turns to stare at them in the theatre, concert hall, or church. If one is forced to await a Hackney carriage on a street corner - avoid standing under a streetlight, thrusting a stockinged leg from beneath one's evening gown or asking passing gentlemen if they are in search of "a little fun". Such behaviour is suitable for only the most fallen of women, or beggar-boys of Athenian tastes.
When travelling by train, tramcar or omnibus, the well-bred lady should maintain a delicate sense of self respect that keeps her from contact with her neighbour, especially should she be forced to travel second class where she may come into contact with football fans, tradesmen and other undesirables. A well-bred lady will engage a private carriage, where her means allow, or may travel by hot air balloon should she be dressed for riding. New-fangled contraptions such as the motorcycle are unladylike. One can hardly hope to take one's place in the higher echelons of society if one is prepared to be seen straddling any two-wheeled vehicle, especially when said requires one to dress in a leather "catsuit". A lady straddles only her beau, and only once engagement rings have been exchanged. She indulges in leatherwear only if attempting to encourage a listless husband to produce an heir. Disporting oneself across the petrol tank of a motorcycle whilst licking one's lips and staring lasciviously at a camera is beneath the dignity of the lowest east end flower girl and should be left to actresses, Catholics and others already damned by the Almighty.
In public a lady never, ever smokes. If one is offered a post-coital cigarillo in the privacy of one's home one may accept discretely, providing one can be sure to open the windows and thoroughly air the bedroom before one's husband returns from escorting his mistress to the opera. In crossing the street, she raises her dress a little above the ankle, holding together the folds of her gown and drawing them toward the right. Raising the dress with both hands exposes too much ankle, is most vulgar and may unnecessarily excite passing clergymen. The engagement of street urchins to carry one across the road is entirely acceptable providing one can be sure of hiring blind urchins incapable of staring up one's skirt. If blind urchins are not available a lady may offer to hire sighted urchins provided that they are prepared to allow one's maid to blind them. Never gouge out the eyes of lower class children oneself - this is servants' work. If blind urchins are unavailable and sighted urchins are overly attached to their vision one may, in emergency, engage sighted urchins on the understanding that they will throw themselves under the wheels of a tram immediately thereafter and before they can vulgarly discuss the delicate fold of one's lady's front-bottom. Have one's maid compensate their parents - handling money outside of a game of whist is vulgar!
Above all, the lady strives to be dignified in the drawing room, elegant in the ballroom and energetic in the boudoir. How else might a lady entertain herself while her husband is visiting the bordello?
And For the Gentlemen
A gentleman will always tip his hat to greet a lady. Winking should be reserved for women of the lower orders. Grasping the breasts and asking if a lady is keen on "a bit of meat and two veg" should be avoided unless in France. Remember, one must be as keen to treat ladies with respect and consideration as one is to whip the servants. And Heaven help the man who chastises his wife with the same belt he has previously used on the footman!
When walking in the street, the gentleman always walks on the outside to protect his lady from the dangers of the road. When engaged in "congress" in a dark alleyway with a woman of lowly birth, a gentleman should hold his umbrella over the woman's bonnet if her hands are "otherwise engaged".
If a gentleman is smoking and a lady passes by, he should remove the cigar from his mouth. If a lady is smoking as she passes a gentleman he should remove the cigarillo from her mouth and replace it with whatever suitable alternative he may find about his person, no matter how intimate. Smoking is infra dig for all ladies; pleasuring a gentleman is the duty set out for her in God's holy plan.
A true gentleman should always rise when a lady enters or leaves the room, and should remove his hat upon entering a room where ladies are present. A true gentleman will remove his hat and cover his "virile member" when a second whore enters his hotel room. He will remove said hat when they have been introduced, and will then introduce said virile member into whichsoever orifice has been contracted for.
A gentleman always stands to shake hands. He may, of course, kneel if the lady has already done so and wishes to make his acquaintance the "continental" way.
The Etiquette of Dress
When meeting people, one of the first impressions one takes of them is from their attire. To be unsuitably dressed for the occasion is a grave blunder indeed. The well-bred lady is intimately acquainted with the rules of the wardrobe, and can present herself well for any occasion. A riding outfit and whip may be appropriate for the boudoir but a lady should never be seen with a whip while hunting - beating horses may cause unsightly beads of sweat to form on one's brow and disobedient horses may be chastised by household staff. Should one's groom beat a favourite hunter over vigorously one may beat him in the privacy of the home and you may allow him to beat you in return with your husband's permission. Persistently disobedient horses may be lightly but firmly shot with an elephant-gun and buried beneath the rose-garden, as may indiscreet grooms who insist on gossiping about one's interest in "intimate athletics" below stairs.
When staying with friends on a Sunday, it is correct to appear at breakfast in the same dress you intend to wear to church. To put on another dress for so short a time would be foolish, however one must always guard against taking breakfast in bed as this will compel one to attend church in one's négligé. Any true lady knows that all ornaments in the morning are very bad taste! A pair of simple diamond studs may be worn, but only in one's ears. Any form of nipple-piercing is a sign of poor taste and the piercing of one's "steak-drapes" must be considered an act of desecration of the Lord's greatest gift to one's husband.
For the riding costume, the key considerations are utility and compactness. Take care not to wear too long a skirt, for it is apt to be a danger in case of accident and will often alarm the horses. Take care not too wear too short a skirt, for it is apt to alarm the master of the hunt.
When attending a ball, the effect of a ball-gown should be to appear striking as one enters the room, and yet neat upon leaving it. Should one, by chance, trap a roll of hygienic tissue in one's undergarments while "irrigating the porcelain valley" one should make every attempt to carry this off as an impromptu train. Should the same happen to a friend, congratulate her on her fashion sense to make her feel at ease and do not begin to gossip viciously about her until she is out of earshot. Remember, ear-trumpets may render your words intelligible across a crowded ballroom! Ball-gowns should be of delicate, flimsy material though not so flimsy as to be rendered transparent by bright candlelight - unless one is in the company of the Prince Regent. Gloves should be extremely long, to cover most of the arm. They should not be of leather, nor should they be studded unless one is punishing one's husband in the pleasure dungeon. Low-fronted dressed should be restricted to dinners with intimate maiden aunts with disposable fortunes who are known to be thrilled by the company of other ladies. Visiting such relatives is your duty, practicing for such visits with the under-housekeeper is not - until your husband so commands.
Above all, always dress according to your station and class. There is a silly fashion amongst servant girls to save their wages and purchase fine, expensive costumes, which are impractical and unsuited to their lifestyle. Servants should know that gentlemen are fond of "a bit of rough". Ladies should keep in their wardrobe both a scullery-maid's uniform and a pot of lubricating glycerine for use in their husband's birthday treat.
Some Other Interesting Rules and Tips
For Weddings and Courtship
"It is astonishing what good marriages plain girls make. 'Tis a way they have. The pretty ones are perhaps a little spoiled. They think to be pretty is enough. The plain are more likely to put out sooner and more freely." ~ Manners for Women,1875.
A single lady and a single gentleman should never be left alone in a room together. This could be embarrassing for them, and lead to speculation amongst others. They should always be joined by a third party, for who else will operate the daguerreotype machine to preserve their "moment" of ecstasy in eternal sepia?
A gentleman should not engage in conversation with a lady to whom he has not been formally introduced. If he has been introduced to her for the purpose of dancing, he should not presume. If he wishes to become further acquainted with her, he must find a mutual friend to complete their introduction. Furthermore, he should not assume that acceptance of his invitation to dance constitutes an invitation to slip his hand beneath her stays and fondle her "lady lumps". For such permission a gentleman must write to a lady's father, or show proof from the College of Arms that he holds at least the rank of Marquis.
It used to be the fashion for brides to weep at the ceremony, and possibly at the "wedding breakfast" also. This, however, may be viewed almost as an insult to the groom, as though one had married a man un blessed in the pantaloon department. Instead, a lady should smile broadly, stifle a yawn while complaining of little sleep and walk with exaggerated care as though suffering an internal injury. The display of bloodied sheets is vulgar and should be left to Italians, the Welsh and other such riff-raff.
At a wedding it is impolite to compliment the bride, who should receive merely wishes for a happy future. The groom is the one to be congratulated - after all, he is the fortunate one! The use of phrase "fill yer boots, lad" should be avoided by a groom's friends, as should the suggestion that any friend has previously ventured whence only candles swathed in goose's lard hath been.
For Dinner Parties
Champagne and white wines should always be served chilled. They should be consumed only from fluted glassware or the slippers of ladies hired in the back-rooms of Whitechapel inns. Conversely, Claret and Burgundy should be served milk-warm for this brings out the body. The bottles of such are best warmed between the breasts of servant girls. On no account allow chambermaids to warm bottles by sitting upon as this may encourage uncouth suggestions. A host who does not decant Port, Sherry or Madeira should expect few guests. Resting in the bottle does no good at all to the flavour and it should be recalled that said bottles hath previously been handled by Spaniards!
The best plates for a dinner party are white, with a slender margin or line of colour and occasionally the family monogram in a medallion at the side. Plates decorated with naked maidens may not be used in the company of ladies and should never be licked clean. Meanwhile a table centre provides a pleasant focus for the guests. Flowers and leaves chosen should be appropriate to the season of the year. A working girl makes an acceptable table centre and one may eat from her body providing the girl in question has first been scrubbed twice with carbollic soap. No flowers or leaves should be introduced into her person without similarly being scrubbed.
Gloves are kept on until the wearer is seated at the table, particularly where one has been in contact with the working class or French. They should be resumed afterwards, the right glove put on prior to shaking hands to say goodbye or offering to relieve rich elderly relatives with weak hearts.
When making conversation at the dining table, one must take care not to use gestures of the hands. For sure thou knowest the gestures I mean, which should only be utilised when encouraging one's husband to initiate the new downstairs chambermaid.
Upon arising, take a complete bath. 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. Bathing in asses milk does not mean what your husband says it means!
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 should be used. Hair other than that found on the head should be carefully plucked by a trained macaque or similar simian and should never be seen by another human. Neither should it be shaved, not even into a heart shape for one's husband's amusement. Remember, no true gentleman requires a "landing strip", nor a second invitation.
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. Rub this into the eyes of your dresser and wash your face with her subsequent tears.This will prove efficacious in making the complexion clear and transparent, and will remind her of her rightful place in society.
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 hygienic and other reasons. One should only consider kissing another lady under the supervision of both her husband and your own. If this is forthcoming it is permissible to kiss her most intimately, verily as far as her "gentleman's bone stable".
A gentleman should not bow from a window to a lady on the street, though he may bow slightly from the street upon being recognised 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, especially should said lady have failed to conceal her undergarments beneath an evening dress and be standing in said window illuminated with a red-screened lantern and hung with carved ivory phalluses.
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. No lady should ever greet a gentleman until he has first greeted her, neither should she respond to his greeting with "How about it then?" or similar.
Conduct to avoid at the ball
No gentleman should enter the ladies' dressing room at a ball. No gentleman should enter a lady at a ball until he has warmed his hands and danced with her at least thrice.
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. Do not consider losing one's dignity in dealing with the cheat. Instead, have your valet poison his claret, for surely 'tis better to be dead than unmasked as less than gentile. And do not forget to hand over your valet to the constabulary - for a low born man to presume to kill his better (even at your behest) sets a dangerous precedent.
Balance is everything! 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. The syphillitic should seek out the fresh and virginal, the better to dilute their own ill health.