Thursday, April 28, 2016

Etiquette of Victorian Refinements

A fetching, young Elizabeth Arden, understood more than most women, the importance of refined personal habits (photo circa 1895) Her fundamental belief was that beauty should not be a veneer of makeup, but an intelligent cooperation between science and nature in order to develop a woman's finest natural assets. 

Personal Habits


Neatness in personal habits is the first mark of good breeding that strikes the observer. Not that a dandy is always a gentleman; but an habitual sloven cannot be. The clothing worn at work may be unavoidably soiled; as also the hands, when occupations involve the handling of dirty substances. But "a little water clears us of this deed; how easy is't then!"

The neatly-dressed hair, the fresh clean skin, the well-kept teeth, the smooth polished nails, the spotless linen and the tasteful tie, the well-brushed clothing and the tidy boots, are all points of good form in personal appearance.

The toilet once made should be considered finished. The hands should not stray to the hair to re-adjust hair-pins—an absent-minded habit. The nervous toying with ear-rings or brooches, or dress buttons, is another mannerism to be guarded against. The hands should learn the grace of repose. It is a great triumph of nervous control for a woman to hold her hands still when they are not definitely employed.

If the attitudes of sitting and standing are practiced under the direction of the teacher of "physical culture," one will probably be innocent of such solecisms as thrusting the feet out to display the shoes; sitting sideways, or cross-legged; or slipping half-way down in the chair; or bending over a book in round-shouldered position; rocking violently; beating a noisy tattoo with impatient toes; or standing on one foot with the body thrown out of line, etc., etc.

Scratching the head or ears, and picking the teeth, are operations that are properly attended to in one's own dressing-room. The conspicuous use of the handkerchief is in bad form. Blowing the nose is not a pleasant demonstration at any time, and at the table is simply unpardonable. A person of fastidious taste will take care of the nose in the quietest and most unobtrusive way, and refrain from disgusting other people of fastidious taste.

"Familiarity breeds contempt." Laying the hand upon another's head or shoulder, clinging to the arms or about the waist, is a freedom that only near relationship or close friendship will excuse. Among slight acquaintances it is an unwarrantable liberty. Even at the impulsive "school-girl age" young ladies should be taught to repel such under-bred familiarities.
—Agnes H. Morton's 1892, “Etiquette”

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, the Site Moderator and Editor Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia