Rules of Propriety

The indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced ... at the English Court on Friday last ... It is quite sufficient to cast one's eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs, and close compressure of the bodies ... to see that it is far indeed removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is ... forced on the respectable classes of society by the evil example of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion.

- The Times of London, 1816

The Basic Rules of Etiquette

  1. Learn to govern yourself and to be gentle and patient.
  2. Never speak or act in anger.
  3. Remember that, valuable as is the gift of speech, silence is often more valuable.
  4. Learn to speak in a gentle tone of voice.
  5. Learn to say kind and pleasant things when opportunity offers.
  6. Do not neglect little things if they can affect the comfort of others.
  7. Learn to deny yourself and prefer others.
  8. Beware of meddlers and tale bearers.

At Teas and Receptions

  1. The day and hour of an afternoon tea may be written on a visiting card. For an afternoon reception, an "At Home" card is used.
  2. Only simple refreshment should be served at an afternoon tea. Thin slices of bread and butter, sandwiches, fancy biscuits or cake, tea, coffee, or chocolate, ice-cream and bouillon. Punch and lemonade may also be served, but no wine or alcoholic drinks.
  3. The hostess should shake hands with her guests and receive them cordially; any formality is out of place on an informal occasion.
  4. If the number of guests is small, the hostess should walk about the room, talking with her visitors. If large guest list, she should remain near the door and have the aid of other ladies who should help entertain the guests, ask them to take refreshments and make introductions when necessary.
  5. At a large an elegant afternoon reception, windows may be darkened, lighted by gas lights and musicians employed.

At Dinner

  1. The table-cloth should be of the finest quality.
  2. The room may be lighted with either white or colored candles or lamps. Many prefer to have a portion of the light fall from side brackets or from the wall.
  3. Furniture and other room decor should be arranged in such a manner that it will not interfere with the guests' view of one another. A low dish of flowers with light to no fragrance is the preferred centerpiece.
  4. Never make an ostentatious display of wealth.
  5. At a large dinner, a card bearing the name of the guest should be laid beside each plate.
  6. Each place setting should include a plate, two large knives, a small knife and fork for fish, three large forks, a tablespoon for soup, a small oyster-fork for raw oysters and a water goblet.
  7. The knives and oyster fork should be placed on the right side of the plate, the other forks on the left.
  8. Bread should be cut in thin slices, and laid on a napkin on the left of each plate. Place glasses at the right of each plate.
  9. Commence dinner with raw oysters, then a choice of one or two soups. Follow the soup with fish, then the meat entree and the salad last. Cheese, bread and butter may be served with the salad course. Then comes dessert and/or fruits and bonbons. Coffee can be served in the drawing room or the parlor.
  10. No more than two vegetables should be served with each entree and potatoes should not be offered with fish.

On the Street

  1. Courtesy requires the return of all civil greetings--those of servants included. Only the most serious causes can justify "a cut".
  2. In bowing, the head should be best; a mere lowering of the eyelids, affected by some people, is rude; but etiquette does not permit a familiar nod, except between business men, or very intimate friends. In passing and repassing on a public promenade or drive, bows are exchanged only at the first meeting.
  3. In carrying canes, umbrellas, and packages, care should be taken that they do not inconvenience others.
  4. In meeting on a street crossing, gentlemen should make way for ladies, and younger persons for older ones.
  5. Ladies and gentlemen, when meeting on the sidewalk, should always pass to the right.
  6. In the evening or whenever safety may require, a gentleman should give a lady his arm.
  7. A gentleman may take two ladies upon his arms, but under no circumstances should the lady take the arms of two gentlemen.
  8. A gentleman will assist a lady over from an omnibus or carriage, without waiting for the formality of an introduction.
  9. No gentleman will smoke when walking with or standing in the presence of a lady standing in the street.
  10. No gentleman should stand on the street corners, steps of hotels, or other public places and make remarks about ladies passing by.
  11. A true lady will go quietly and unobtrusively about her business when on the street, never seeking to attract the attention of the opposite sex, at the same time recognizing acquaintances with a courteous bow, and friends with pleasant words of greeting.

At the Theatre, Opera and Concerts

  1. A gentleman desiring a lady to accompany him to the opera, theatre, or other place of amusement, must send her a written invitation not later than the day previous to the entertainment. It must be written in the third person, upon white note-paper of the finest quality, with an envelope to match.
  2. The lady must send her replay immediately, so that should she be unable to accept, the gentleman may secure another companion.
  3. Should the lady accept the invitation, the gentleman must secure the best seats within his means. If unable to obtain seats, inform her at once, and propose another occasion when you can make this provision for her comfort.
  4. In entering the hall in which the entertainment is given, a gentleman should walk by the side of the lady is reached. If the width of the aisle is not sufficient to allow this, he should precede her.
  5. As a rule, the gentleman should take the outer seat; but if this is the best for seeing or hearing, it belongs to the lady.
  6. To leave a lady alone during the "waits" and going out to "get a drink" or "to speak to a friend" is indicative of bad manners; the gentleman is bound to remain by her side to the end of the entertainment.
  7. At the opera it is customary for ladies and gentleman to leave their seats, and promenade in the lobbies or foyer of the house during the intervals between the acts. The gentleman should always invite the lady to do so. Should she decline, he is bound to remain with her.
  8. A gentleman accompanying a lady is not bound to give up his seat to another lady. His duty is to the lady he accompanies.
  9. It is rude to whisper or talk during a performance. It is discourteous to the performers, and annoying to those of the audience around you, who desire to enjoy the entertainment.
  10. It is in especially bad taste for lovers to indulge in any affectionate demonstrations at such places.
  11. A gentleman must see to it that the lady accompanying him is provided with a program and a libretto if at the opera.
  12. Applause is the just due of the deserving actor, and should be given liberally. Applaud by clapping the hands, and not by stamping or kicking with the feet.
  13. Upon escorting the lady back to her home, the gentleman should ask permission to call upon her the next day, which request she should grant. She should, in her own sweet way, cause him to feel that he has conferred a genuine pleasure upon her by his invitation.
  14. A gentleman who can afford it should always provide a carriage on such occasions. If his means do not permit this, he should not embarrass himself by assuming the expense. In the event that the evening be stormy, he should not expect the lady to venture out without a carriage.

When Out Shopping

  1. In visiting a store for the purpose of examining the goods or making purchases, conduct yourself with courtesy and amiability.
  2. Never look over goods without any intention of buying them.
  3. Speak to the clerks and employees of the store with courtesy and kindness. Do not order them to show you anything. Request them to do so in a polite manner. In leaving their counter, say pleasantly "Good morning" or "Good Day".
  4. Never take a costly piece of goods -- nor any piece -- into a better light without first asking the clerk's permission to do so.
  5. Should you find another person examining a piece of goods, do not take hold of it. Wait until it is laid down, and then make your examination.
  6. To attempt to "beat down" the price of an article is rude. In the best conducted stores the price of the goods is "fixed", and the salesmen are not allowed to change it. If the price does not suit you, you are not obliged to buy, but can go elsewhere.
  7. Pushing or crowding at a counter, or the indulgence in personal remarks, handling the goods in a careless manner, or so roughly as to injure them, lounging upon the counter, or talking in a loud voice, are marks of bad breeding.
  8. Never let the door of a shop slam in the face of any person, nor permit a stranger to hold it open without any acknowledgement of courtesy.
  9. Never express your opinion about an article another is purchasing, unless asked to do so.
  10. You should never ask or expect a clerk waiting upon a customer to leave that person and attend to you. Wait patiently for your turn.
  11. It is rude to make unfavorable comparisons between the goods you are examining, and those of another store.
  12. Have your parcels sent and so avoid the fatigue of carrying them.

When at Church

  1. It is the duty of a well-bred person to attend church regularly on Sunday.
  2. In entering the church, you should pass quietly and deliberately to your pew or seat. Walking rapidly up the aisle is sure to disturb the congregation.
  3. If you are a stranger, wait in the lower part of the aisle until the sexton or ushers show you a seat, or you are invited to enter some pew.
  4. A gentleman should remove his hat as soon as he enters the doors of the church, and should and replace it on his head after service until he has reached the outer vestibule.
  5. In accompanying a lady to church, pass up the aisle by her side and allow her to enter first; then enter and seat yourself beside her.
  6. Should a lady desire to enter a pew in which you are seated in the first position, rise, step out into the aisle, and allow her to enter.
  7. Once in church, observe the most respectful silence except when joining in the worship. Whispering or laughing before the service begins, or during service, is highly improper.
  8. When the service is over, leave the sacred edifice quietly and deliberately. You may chat with your friends in the vestibule, but no in the hall of worship.
  9. Should you see a stranger standing in the aisle, unnoticed by the sexton or usher, quietly invite him into your pew.
  10. You should see that a stranger in your pew is provided with the books necessary to enable him to join in the service. If he does not know how to use them, assist him as quietly as possible.
  11. When there are not enough books for the separate use of each person, you may share yours with an occupant of your pew.
  12. In attending a church of a different denomination from your own, you should carefully observe the outward forms of worship.
  13. To be late at church is bad manners.
  14. Gentlemen will not congregate in groups in front of the church, and state at the ladies as they walk out.

When Visiting

  1. Do not be in haste to seat yourself; one appears fully as well and talks better, standing for a few moments.
  2. A man should always remain standing as long as there are any women standing in the room.
  3. A man should never take any article from a woman's hands--book, cup, flower, etc.--and remain seated, she standing.
  4. Do not take young children when making formal calls.
  5. Do not take pets with you.
  6. Do not meddle with, or stare at the articles in the room.
  7. Do not toss over the cards in the card receiver.
  8. Do not call across the length of the room if you wish to address any one. Cross the room and speak to him quietly.
  9. Do not walk around the room, examining pictures, while waiting for the hostess.
  10. Do not introduce politics, religion or other weighty topics for conversation when making calls.
  11. Do not, if a gentleman, seat yourself upon the sofa beside the hostess, or in near proximity, unless invited to do so.
  12. Do not scratch your head or use a toothpick, earspoon or comb.
  13. Use a handkerchief when necessary, but without glancing at it afterwards. Also be as quiet and unobtrusive in the action as possible.
  14. Do not tell long stories, argue, talk scandal or rumors and do not attack the religious beliefs of anyone present.
  15. Do not enter a room without first knocking and receiving an invitation to come in.

On Mourning

  1. Much of the custom surrounding mourning came from following Queen Victoria's example. It became customary for families to go through elaborate and expensive rituals to commemorate the death of their loved ones as well as curtailing social behavior for a set period of time and erecting an ornate monument on the grave.
  2. Mourning clothes are the families outward display of their inner feelings. The rules for who wears what and for how long is complicated, and outlined in popular journals and household manuals (i.e. The Queen and Cassell's).
  3. The deepest mourning clothes are black, symbolizing spiritual darkness. They are made from a non-reflective paramatta silk or the less expensive bombazine. The dresses are trimmed with crape in a peculiar crimped shape appearance produced by heat. Crape was chosen for mourning clothes as it doesn't combine well with any other clothing. After a period of time, the crape could be removed and the color of the dress lightened as mourning goes on to gray, mauve and then white.
  4. Men have it easy as they simply wear their dark suits along with black gloves, hatbands and cravats. Children are not expected to wear mourning clothes, though sometimes you will find girls wearing white dresses.
  5. The length of time spent mourning depends on your relationship to the deceased and are dictated by society. Widows are expected to wear full mourning dress for two years; everyone else less--children mourning parents or vice versa one year, for grandparents and siblings six months, aunts and uncles two months.
  6. Many shops cater to the trade for mourning clothes, the largest one is Jay's of Regent Street. Opened in 1841, Jay's provides every conceivable item of clothing you and your family could need and you are bound to be a repeat customer as it is considered bad luck to keep mourning clothes in the house after the period of mourning is ended.

On Traveling

  1. Ladies will not permit their escorts to enter any apartment reserved for ladies only.
  2. Ladies traveling alone should consult conductors or captains. Ladies will thank gentlemen who raise or lower windows, coldly but politely.
  3. If a person crushes or crowds you, and apologizes, accept the apology with a cold bow.
  4. Gentlemen escorts must pay the most delicate care to the lady or ladies under their care.  The attention must be unremitting.
  5. At a hotel, the escort must see to everything, rooms, etc.
  6. Gentlemen will commence conversations.
  7. Gentlemen will assist ladies to alight from the cars and or carriage.
  8. A gentleman may offer to escort a lady to the refreshment saloon.
  9. A gentlemen may offer his newspaper.

Breaches of Etiquette

  1. To remove one's gloves when making a formal call.
  2. To stare around the room.
  3. For a caller who is waiting the entrance of the hostess to open the piano or touch it if it is open.
  4. To go to the room of an invalid unless invited.
  5. To look at your watch when calling.
  6. To walk around the room when waiting for the hostess.
  7. To open or shut a door, raise or lower a window curtain, or in any other way alter the arrangement of a room when visiting.
  8. Turn your chair so that your back faces another guest.
  9. To play with any ornament in the room or to seem to be aware of anything but the company present while visiting.
  10. To remain when you find the host or hostess dressed to go out.
  11. To make remarks about another caller who has just left the room.
I myself have breached etiquette my rudely stealing these lists of proper behavior from the fine people of  I give them full credit for the creation of these lists, but I fear for their continuation and have reprinted them here.