1860s Etiquette for Ladies

A lady will not be rude, nor dress so as; attract undue attention, much less to create unpleasant remark. She will be kind to all; she Will not absorb too much of the walk( nor fail to give half the way to either a lady or gentleman; she will not allow her skirts to drag upon the walk to the annoyance of other pedestrians; she will not fail to recognize friends by a pleasant smile and slight bow; she will not look back at any one who has passed her; she will not eye another lady’s dress, as if studying its very texture ; she will not stop upon the walk to talk with a friend to the inconvenience of others; she will not make the street a place of meeting with a person whom she can not receive at her house. -Some females do, it is true, not regard all these laws of proper and recognized etiquette; and such, we are forced to say, forfeit their claim to be called a lady. A true lady in the street, as in the parlor or salon, is modest, discreet, kind, obliging; if she is to the contrary, she forfeits her right to be called after the truly genteel.

It is proper that the lady should first recognize the gentleman. There has been some dispute on this point of etiquette, but we think there can be no question of the propriety of the first recognition coming from the lady. A gentleman will never fail to bow in return to a lady, even if he may feel coldly disposed toward her; but a lady may not feel at liberty to return a gentleman’s bow, which places him in a rather unpleasant position. A lady should give the first smile or bow, is the rule now recognized.

It is a most unfailing mark of ignorance and low origin to “put on airs,” and to show pride, vanity, egotism in the street. The truly well-educated, wellborn, and well-bred never betray vanity, conceit, superciliousness, nor hauteur. Set this down as an invariable law, and, male or female, let it guide all your actions.

In a married woman, a richer style of ornament is admissible. Feathers in her bonnet, a necklace, a camellia or jewels in her hair are allowable in the wife, but for a young girl, a style of modest simplicity is far more impressive and becoming. We shall state what is known to be a fact, when we say ladies who attract most observation, are those dressed with the most studied simplicity, while those with most ornament are treated with less deference, and excite less compliment.

A dress ever so simple, and cheap, if it be neat, is preferable to finery and dirt: one is respectable, the other is not.

Ladies will always be careful of their associates, At the public ball are occasionally to be found persons whose acquaintance it is not proper to make. The young female is ever the cynosure of all eyes, and can not comport herself too strictly, nor choose her partners too carefully. It is not best to be “prudish,” but it is right and necessary to be cautious and discreet.

In walking up or down the room the lady should always be accompanied by a gentleman; it is quite improper to saunter around alone.

When a young lady declines dancing with a gentleman, it is her duty to give him a reason why, although some thoughtless ones do not. No matter how frivolous it may be, it is simply an act of courtesy to offer him an excuse; while, on the other hand, no gentleman ought so far to compromise his self-respect as to take the slightest offense at seeing a lady by whom he has just been refused, dance immediately after with some one else. A lady has a hundred motives for conduct which she can not explain; and for a gentleman to take offense at her simple declination to dance is very silly and unmanly.

No lady, however numerous the solicitations of her admirers, should consent to dance repeatedly, when, by so doing, she excludes other ladies from participating in the same amusement; still less, as we have hinted, should she dance exclusively with the same gentleman, to the disadvantage of others.

Ball-room introductions are not regarded as introductions for a more extended acquaintance than for the evening. Should the parties afterward meet upon the street or elsewhere, let the gentleman be careful not to presume upon any recognition of the lady until she has first bowed. If she fails to extend this recognition, let the gentleman take no umbrage, for he has no real claim upon her acquaintance merely from a public ball-room introduction.

In a quadrille, or other dance, while awaiting the music, or while unengaged, a lady and gentleman should avoid long conversations, as they are apt to interfere with the progress of the dance; while, on the other hand, a gentleman should not stand like an automaton, as though he were afraid of his partner, but endeavor to render himself agreeable by those “airy nothings” which amuse for the moment, and are in harmony with the occasion.


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