10 Ridiculous Victorian Etiquette Rules

Fashion Etiquette: Crinolines and Corsets
A crinoline-sporting woman waits for help before attempting to get dressed. London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

The Victorians firmly believed in the importance of wearing the appropriate clothing at every occasion. And while in the early part of the 19th century (Jane Austen's time) women's dresses were fairly simple, by the time of the Victorians, the pendulum had swung back to favor elaborate, refined and embellished attire. The average girl needed many styles of dress stashed in her closet, including dresses for balls, dinners, walks and carriage rides, in addition to country and evening dresses. Strict rules established how long one was to wear black when mourning a husband, father, sibling and even in-laws [source: Pool].

Undoubtedly, the most famously ridiculous item of a Victorian woman's wardrobe was the crinoline. As a substitute for layers of heavy petticoats, these wide steel-constructed domed cages held women's skirts far from their legs. Such devices made it easy to use the chamber pot, perhaps, but maneuvering in small spaces became a challenge. Women also had to relearn how to sit elegantly [source: Goodman].Nevertheless, it was the popular fashion, and every fine upper class lady had one. Later in the century, fashion favored crinolettes, which propped up just the rear of the dress.

But perhaps no other article of clothing better represented Victorians than the corset, which was essential for a Victorian woman. These tight-fitting undergarments helped one stay erect and even represented a sense of self-respect. Indeed, corsets were ubiquitous for women across class — they were even standard in prisons and workhouses. Some physicians at the time argued that women needed the corset for health reasons — to support their internal organs [source: Goodman].