Friday, September 13, 2019

Developing Gilded Age Panache

 “The art of being a gentleman cannot, of course, be acquired by mere training. There are essential to the completeness of the character some inborn traits, and yet it is quite possible for men who do not possess them to pass for gentlemen, because they have mastered the rules of deportment.” 
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“There is nothing so common in all the world as the meeting of people every day, and yet there is nothing so really uncommon and rare as the man who knows just how to conduct himself under these circumstances.” This was the dictum of the manager of a Chicago dancing academy. He has made the study not only of bad etiquette, but general deportment, the specialty of his life, and has devoted so much conscientious attention to it that he is regarded as an authority upon the nice points of conduct by all who know him. “The art of being a gentleman cannot, of course, be acquired by mere training. There are essential to the completeness of the character some inborn traits, and yet it is quite possible for men who do not possess them to pass for gentlemen, because they have mastered the rules of deportment.” 

“Are the rules of deportment set down in the text books?” “No. There are books on etiquette, but the matters I refer to are seldom to be found in them, at least, with any adequate treatment. I usually give my instructions by word of mouth or by example.” “Do you ever have pupils who come to you for the express purpose of learning deportment?” “Very many, and they vary in ages from little children of six years up to fat men of fifty. It is by no means uncommon that a man past middle age comes to take his first lesson to learn how to carry himself in the street or in the car. It is a curious speculation as to what leads them at that time of life to take up this study. It would seem as if anybody who was inclined to attend to it at all, would surely have done so in his younger days, and I really suspect that my middle-aged pupils are parvenus. I do not mean to use the word in the disagreeable sense, and, in fact, I think that it is very commendable that a man who has suddenly acquired wealth, or had gained some years of leisure by hard labor, should undertake to fit himself, as well as may be for his new position in the world.” 

“How do you go to work to teach an old man these matters?” “Just as I do with the children. I teach them first to walk. As a rule, men walk best when they walk naturally, but when they come to pay particular attention to matters of gait and carriage they are almost always inclined to some eccentricities of movement which have to be corrected. It is always the case, too, that men who come to me wish to learn to dance, and I put them through the initial lessons with a view to cultivating two things, grace of carriage, which includes an easy, unconscious control of the limbs and the technical figures of the dance. As the lessons progress of course, I teach the pupil etiquette of the ball room, and it will generally follow that whoever behaves in good form in the ball-room, will not go amiss elsewhere.” 
The correct “new” bow for 1888 

“Is there a recognized mode of bowing?” “Yes; there are two. One, that has really passed out of recognition, is still seen in the case of gentlemen of the old school, as we term them. Their method of bowing is a relic of the minuet, and if you have ever seen that beautiful dance you will remember it. The gentleman places his right hand upon his heart and bends over very low, and, as I say, only gentlemen of the old school, or persons who do not know any better and ape manners with which they are not familiar, adopt this method. The bow of to-day is a far less conspicuous movement. The hands should be kept at the side with the arms straight. People who are conscious of their arms and hands probably will never learn to bow correctly, and those who have become self possessed in matters of carriage can usually keep their arms at their sides without their appearing to be stiff or in the way. With the arms at the sides, the bow of to-day should be made by a slight inclination of the head. There should be just enough of this forward movement to be perceptible and no more, for there would be danger of a burlesque of the form of recognition.” 

“Is this method of bowing the right one to be used when being presented to a lady either in the ball room or in the parlor?” “Yes, there is only one form. When you are presented to a lady you should make this respectful inclination and make no advance whatever unless she gives the cue to it. The custom of shaking hands is not by any means reprehensible, but it is not considered the proper thing for a gentleman to offer his hand to a lady unless she makes it evident that she is willing to receive the greeting. Those who are well trained in deportment can meet each other in a formal way and shake hands without any embarrassing pause, or they do it so quickly, do they see what is the proper thing to do. The lady does not bow in the ceremony of introduction. Her greeting is entirely with the expression of her face, unless she chooses to shake hands. There is no rule to say whether she shall do so or not excepting that at very formal receptions that feature is to be avoided. When there are a great number of persons to be introduced to, unless the guest is a distinguished person, it is better to avoid the fatigue and annoyance that results from shaking hands. But in a private introduction there is no reason of etiquette why she should not grant that favor to any gentleman whom she meets for the first time.” 

‘‘Is there no recognized form of greeting a lady upon the street?” ‘‘Yes. Your well-trained gentleman will always lift his hat. If you were to go out upon a public promenade and watch the people as they pass, you may probably see a hundred different ways by which the gentlemen in the throng greet their lady friends. Some men simply bow, some make an off hand salutation with the arm without touching the hat. Others put their fingers to the rims of their hats, others tip the hat a little forward over their eyes without really removing it from their heads, and from this there are all degrees to that absurd practice that prevailed a few years ago of taking the hat off and rapping the chest with it. This was a silly fad, and is happily entirely gone out of style. The law of all deportment, whether in the ballroom, the parlor, the street, or on the stage, is that no gesture should be made in such a way as to hide the face behind the arm or hand. Therefore, if milady approach you upon your right hand side, you should lift the hat with the left hand. 

“Some men seem to have the idea that it is very bad form to salute with the left hand. As a fact it is much worse to pull up the right, and thus conceal your face or partially hide it from the party whom you meet. There is another matter about this recognizing of ladies and friends upon the street. When you are upon a public promenade, where you are liable to meet your friends several times in the course of a walk passing back and forward, it is not necessary to raise the hat to them more than once. If you tip the hat every time you meet the lady in the same day it becomes an exaggerated recognition, so that its respectful quality is lost. Raising the hat the first time you meet your friend is like passing the time of day, and after that it is much belter simply to bow slightly or even to smile.” 
Is he a parvenu? Is he “new money?” Does he not know this is not the proper way to sit? – “The worst you can do when seated is to cross your legs in an ungainly fashion. A general rule to follow in such a matter as this is to avoid making the legs conspicuous. It is such the best plan, therefore, to sit with both your feet squarely upon the floor and close together. Your hands may be occupied according to circumstances.”  

“Do you ever have to teach men the proper method of sitting in chairs?” “Yes, that is an important matter and one that displays a man's bad breeding about as quickly as anything. The worst you can do when seated is to cross your legs in an ungainly fashion. A general rule to follow in such a matter as this is to avoid making the legs conspicuous. It is such the best plan, therefore, to sit with both your feet squarely upon the floor and close together. Your hands may be occupied according to circumstances. And if you are listening or merely waiting, they had better be laid upon the lap without being folded.– Chicago Herald, 1889



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

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