10 Ridiculous Victorian Etiquette Rules

Ballroom Etiquette
"My dance card is full. Is yours?" "Oh, I'm sorry, I was too busy being seamlessly elegant to notice." The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

A ball was a highlight of social life for young people during the Victorian Age. Compared to a country dance, a ball was more formal and had a larger attendance and an orchestra. Those lucky enough to receive the formal invitations got them three to six weeks before the event and had to RSVP within a day [source: Pool]. The ball featured dinner, card-playing, and, of course, music and dancing.

A hostess would go all-out to prepare her house, including taking doors off hinges, removing carpets and polishing floors, adding as much light as possible, planning food and eating arrangements, getting flowers and hiring an orchestra.

At balls, ladies generally had dance cards on which to write the names of their partners. According to Cassell's, a promise to dance, once made, was sacred and "should not on any account be broken." And a lady was never to dance more than three times with one gentleman [source: Pool]. During the dance, a lady always carried herself gracefully [source: Carpenter]. Indeed, a lady always had to be perfectly and seamlessly elegant, never so much as letting anyone see her adjusting her hair or outfit.

Strangers, of course, couldn't dance without an introduction, so a gentleman who took interest in a lady had to ask a mutual acquaintance for one. But this introduction counted only in the ballroom — if he saw her again, he could not presume an acquaintance unless she took the initiative.

While a lady couldn't walk around a ballroom without a gentleman or escort at her side, the practice of promenading a lady around the room after a dance fell out of fashion in the middle of the Victorian Era [source: Carpenter]. Instead, a gentleman escorted the lady to her seat, bowed and retired. The choice of a dance partner on the last dance before the meal was especially important, as the gentleman would escort his dance partner to dinner.