10 Ridiculous Victorian Etiquette Rules


Visiting Etiquette

If only she'd had a smartphone. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
If only she'd had a smartphone. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When a formal visit was accepted or arranged, one wouldn't wear anything showy: Etiquette dictated "plain walking costume" [source: Cassell]. Because of tradition, these calls were known as "morning calls," but by Victorian times, they were hardly ever performed before noon. In the 18th century, "morning" simply meant before dinner.

Every day, if a lady happened to be home, she was expected to be properly dressed and ready for visitors between 3 and 5 p.m. In fact, the time visitors arrived depended on how intimate an acquaintance they were: The closer you were, the later you could visit. Someone not well acquainted with you could call between 3 and 4 p.m.; if they arrived earlier, they certainly exhibited "ill-taste" [sources: Pool, Cassell].

When you arrived, the butler would lead you to the drawing room, where it was customary to receive guests. According to etiquette, gentlemen would bring their hat and riding whip with them to indicate that they didn't intend to stay long. The gentleman would keep his hat in his hand, unless it was necessary to put it down on a piece of furniture — but never something as vulgar as on the floor or under his chair.

"Shaking hands," according to Cassell's, is an "inappropriate" term implicating a firm, vigorous shake. Instead, one must apply only "gentle pressure" and "slight movement from the wrist." And of course, a gentleman never initiated taking a lady's hand.