Friday, August 1, 2014

Victorian Era Etiquette for Formal Afternoon Teas

An ornate tea server.
These are very successful as a rule, due perhaps to their small expense and few exactions, and are given with many purposes: to introduce young women into society, to allow a hostess to entertain a number of her friends, to honor some woman of note, etc.

A formal afternoon tea is one for which cards have been issued, naming set date. Awnings and carpet should be provided from curb to house. A man should be stationed at the curb to open carriage doors and call them when the guests leave, and another man should be in attendance at the front door to open it the moment a guest appears at the top step and to direct him to the dressing room.

A policeman should be detailed for the occasion to keep back the onlookers, and should receive a small fee for his services. At the door of the drawing-room a man should ask the name of each guest, which he announces as the latter enters. The hostess and those receiving with her should be just within the door to receive the guests.


Each guest should leave a card in the tray in the hall. A woman may leave the cards of the men of her family who have been unable to attend. Cards should be sent by mail or messenger by those invited but unable to be present, and should be timed so that they reach the house during the function.

A husband and wife each send a card when the invitation is issued in the name of the hostess only, and two cards each when issued in the name of hostess and her daughter. If issued in the name of both husband and wife, a husband should send two and his wife should send one card.


The daughters who have passed the debutante age usually stand for an hour beside their mother to receive the guests, and afterward mingle with the guests to help to make the function a success.
A comedic look at the "London Season" in 1870 ~ The "London Season" is synonymous with tradition, and both British and international codes of conduct in social, corporate entertainment and business environments. It  actually began over two hundred years ago, and started out as a series of events, enjoyed only by members of the aristocracy.


When a tea is given in honor of a debutante, she stands beside the hostess (usually her mother), and each guest is introduced to her. Flowers should be liberally provided, and friends may contribute on such an occasion. The host and the men all wear the regulation afternoon dress. Women wear costumes appropriate to the afternoon, more elegant in proportion to the elaborateness of the function.

Guests may suit their convenience in arriving, provided they do not come at the opening hour nor at the very end.

After leaving their wraps in the dressing-rooms, guests enter the drawing-room, leaving their cards in the tray in the hall, and then giving their names to the man at the door, who announces them. On entering the room, the women precede the men. After greeting the hostess and being introduced to those receiving with her, the guests move into the middle of the room. Guests go the dining-room when they wish without greeting the hostess.

It is not expected that guests at a large reception will stay all the afternoon. Twenty minutes is long enough. It is not necessary to bid the hostess good-bye when leaving.

If guests take leave of host and hostess, they should shake hands. In the dining-room the men, assisted by the waiters, help the women.

When the reception is a small formal one, the guests may stay a longer time, and usually it is better to take leave of the hostess, unless she is much occupied at the time.


Except when a newly married couple give a house-warming or a reception, the host does not stand beside his wife, but spends the time in making introductions, and doing his best to make the function a success.

When some married woman or woman guest of honor assists his wife to receive, he should at the proper moment escort her to the dining-room.
The hostess and those receiving with her should be just within the door, ready to receive each guest as announced. The hostess shakes hands with each guest, and introduces them to those receiving with her. Friends assisting a hostess to entertain are generally permitted to invite a few of their own friends, and their cards are sent with those of the hostess. A pretty feature is the presence of a number of young women here and there in the rooms to assist in receiving the guests. Music is always appropriate.


The hours are from 4 to 7 P.M.


The hostess should introduce her guests to those receiving with her.


Engraved invitations are sent a week or ten days in advance, by mail or messenger. They are usually issued in the name of the hostess only, though they may be issued in the name of both husband and wife. In place of the visiting-card, an "At Home" card may be used, or cards specially engraved for the purpose. When cards are sent to a married couple, the cards are addressed to both husband and wife.

Invitations are sent in two envelopes-the inner one unsealed and bearing the name of the guest, and the outer one sealed, with, the street address.


It is not necessary to accept or decline these invitations, as the guest accepts by his presence. If unable to do so, he should send by mail or messenger a visiting-card, to reach the hostess during the ceremony. When the invitation has been issued in the name of the hostess only, a husband and wife each send a card, and if in the name of hostess and her daughter, each should send two cards. If the invitation has been issued in the name of the husband and wife, the wife should send one and a husband two cards.

If the woman in the family is the only one present at the function, she can leave cards for the rest of the family.


Both the host and men wear the regulation afternoon dress, consisting of the long frock coat with single or double-breasted waistcoat to match, or of some fancy cloth, and gray trousers. White linen, a light tie, a silk hat, gray gloves, and patent leather shoes complete the costume. The overcoat, hat, and cane are left in the dressing-room, and the guest removes one or both gloves as he pleases --remembering that he must offer his ungloved, right hand to the hostess.


Guests on being presented to the hostess should shake hands. If guest takes leave of hostess, they should shake hands. If the hostess is surrounded by guests, a pleasant nod of farewell is admissible.


Women leave cards of their male relatives as well as their own, even though their names may be announced upon entering. Guests leave their cards in a receptacle provided for the purpose, or give them to the servant at the door. Women wear a costume appropriate for the afternoon, and keep their hats and gloves on.

 From "The Book of Good Manners," by W.C. Green