Victorian etiquette for women is looked back upon as restrictive, virtuous and prudish. The main aim was to dictate appropriate behaviour to ensure a good marriage. It was to make women more appealing to a gentleman and a gentleman’s family.
Rules such as curtseying when meeting a gentleman and not engaging in conversation with a gentleman one has never met may no longer be relevant but there is still something to be learned.
While we are not advocating a rigid set of dos and don’ts that you must adhere to for fear of social death, there are rules of behaviour and manners that can help in this day and age without going against the feminine ideals and equality women such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Margaret Sanger fought so hard for us to gain.
Here are five rules of etiquette that can make our lives more enjoyable.
1. If you are conversing with people who know less than you, do not lead the conversation where they cannot follow.
The art of conversation is about an exchange of ideas and opinions. If you take a conversation away from another person’s knowledge or interests, you are merely lecturing. Look for topics that you are both interested in and you will both enjoy the exchange… and who knows where a conversation can lead!
2. Invitations should be sent at least seven to ten days before the day fixed for an event, and should be replied to within a week of their receipt, accepting or declining with regrets.
In this day of social networking, texting and informal exchange, the formal sending of and replying to invitations has been somewhat forgotten. However everyone likes to be invited to a party and those organising the party want to feel that you respect them enough to at least let them know if you will be attending. Even if the invite is via Facebook, giving people at least a week’s notice of your event means that people have the chance to put it in their diary with less chance of a clashing appointment. And if someone has had the courtesy to invite you to a party, it is only polite to respond – after all, you only have to tick the accept button these days!
3. Accept and give compliments graciously.
Lets face it, we all love to be complimented but many of us deflect the praise to appear humble or because we don’t trust it or believe that we deserve it. Learn to be nice to yourself. Accept these kind words in the manner that they were offered, a simple thank you is often all that is needed and the more you practice, the easier it will get.
Giving a compliment to make someone feel good can be very rewarding. Not only do they walk away with a smile on their face but you feel good for making someone else feel good – it is a win-win situation. But fake compliments can have the opposite effect. If you are going to give a compliment make sure that you are honest, sincere and thoughtful.
4. Always look for ways to better yourself; spiritually, physically and intellectually.
Life is busy but a sound body, mind and soul is still important. Whether your pursuits are Victorian, such as learning piano or modern like taking kite surfing lessons, continual learning can be great for meeting new people, furthering your career or even just pulling yourself out of a rut.
5. Dress must be modest, but not dowdy. Feminine styles and colours are preferred.
In this day and age modest is the new sexy. Ever since Elizabeth Hurley wore that Versace safety-pin dress to the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral, stars have been wearing less and less to try to hit the headlines… and what the stars do, other women follow. Now no one wants to look common so grabbing a little Mad Men style is not only sensible it is sexy too! And lets face-it those retro women may have been covered up but they oozed sex appeal!
[picture credits: Frank Ockenfels/AMC; arcanepackrat; Sarah Parrott]