More Victorian Etiquette for a Debutante Being Presented to Queen Victoria Herself
On her entry to the reception-room, her name is announced, and she must courtesy almost down to the earth before the Queen or the person representing the Sovereign, and then in the prescribed order, once to every member of the royal reception group.
The courtesies are very low, make a surprisingly heavy demand on the muscle, and occasionally, even to the experienced, involve the danger of lopping over backwards. Even should an accident happen, however, it would rarely be heard outside the channel circle, for members of the Court are extremely cautious in divulging news, particularly of so embarrassing a character.
While the instruction is going on, the dress is being made, and the garment for so momentous an occasion must not only be as costly as her purse can buy, but as original as her imagination can devise.
The gentlemen who are presented at Court are not trembled in this respect; an officer wears the uniform of his rank, an Embassador wears the Court dress of his own country, or occasionally, by courtesy, defers in the matter of attire to the Court where he makes his appearance. But for the civilian, a Court dress is carefully devised, and with the pattern he must comply to the smallest particular.
The Court dress at present in use in Great Britain is an abomination composed of modifications of the hideous costume worn in the time of George III. The time has gone by when courtiers could ape Sir Walter Raleigh in splendor of costume. It is recorded of this Nobleman that he appeared at Court in a white satin vest, over which was a doublet flowered and embroidered with pearls. The feather in his hat was fastened with rubies and pearls. His breeches and stockings were of white silk. His shoes were buff, covered with diamonds to the value of £30,000, while his sword and belt blazed with precious stones.
No such gorgeousness is now displayed among English courtiers, but still there is enough to create the impression among the uninitiated that the wearer of the Court fripperies had just escaped from a circus and had not found time to change his clothes. The lack of latitude allowed the men is atoned for by the license given to the women, for so long as the dress has no sleeves and almost no waist, but a lavish abundance of train, the costume may be made according to the fancy of the wearer.
The dresses are uniformly magnificent, and for weeks after a grand drawing-room, the English fashion papers are filled with illustrations of the dresses worn by prominent ladies of the nobility. The name having passed the Lord Chamberlain and being approved by the Queen, the candidate goes in the carriage of her chaperon some hours before the appointed time to the neighborhood of Buckingham Palace.
The carriage is always an elegant turnout with coachman and footman in white wigs and their smartest liveries ornamented in front with monstrous boutonnieres tied with white satin bows. At the appointed time the carriage finds a place in the line and delivers its precious freight at the Palace door.
The ladies are shown in droves into anterooms, which in winter, are cold and in summer hot and ill-ventilated. Each applicant must be provided with two large cards having her name clearly written upon each. One is given to the Queen's pages at the Palace door, the other to the Lord Chamberlain, who from it reads the name of the lady being presented.
After waiting perhaps for several hours the aspirant hears her name called by a page, a couple of gorgeous attendants adjust her train, she is ushered into the royal presence, where she courtesies the requisite number of times, then retires backward, maneuvering her train as best she can while bowing to the earth. The ordeal is over, and she goes away to reflect how foolish it all is, and how she would do it over again every day in the week to attain social pre-eminence or to spite some other woman. — San Francisco, 1891
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