I’ve been talking about Victorian etiquette since January. Today, I’ll share street etiquette for both men and women. Those with good breeding always follow these rules. But as a historical romance writer, I find having the characters break the rules is far more interesting. If you haven't read my previous post, here's a link.
Do you ever wonder when it's proper for a man to offer his arm to a lady? It's not as often as you think from reading historicals or watching historical movies. Those references would imply it is proper always. But that’s not true.
In the evening
In the evening or whenever it might appear not to be safe, such as a rough surface to traverse or a rough neighborhood, a gentleman should extend his arm to a lady. Otherwise, unless they are a married couple or he is an elderly man or kin, a gentleman should never touch a lady. They might walk side by side, the man nearer the street with his hands to himself.
Assistance from Strangers
Entering a carriage or public transportation could be awkward with a woman’s full skirts. A gentleman is expected to offer a hand to assist the lady into or out of the conveyance. If a footman or driver is not available, then a man passing by may offer aid. Once the lady is safely attended, he then tips his hat and moves on. Introductions are not expected.
I love this one. No gentleman will smoke when walking with or in the presence of a lady. A proper gentleman doesn't smoke in the presence of a lady, even if given permission to do so.
He saw her face
Here's an odd one. A gentleman should not bow at the window to a lady passing down the street. However, he may tip his head slightly if he's walking on the street and recognizes a lady in the window. But this behavior should be avoided because of gossips. Apparently, people will speculate about what their relationship may be.
Watching the girls go by
No gentleman should stand on a street corner in front of a hotel or basically any public place and make remarks about the ladies passing by. It was considered poor taste and rude. I don’t believe this bad habit has ever really been curtailed.
Ladies should pace themselves
Girls were instructed never to walk fast on the street because it's considered unladylike and ungraceful. And running across the street in front of a carriage is dangerous and shows a lack of dignity. Running attracts undue attention and marks the lady as uncouth.
Still true today
Parents still teach these same rules of conduct to children today. Don’t stare at people in public. No spitting on the street. Don’t look back at people after they passed you on the street. Don’t draw attention to people across the street by calling out loudly or laughing at people as they pass by.
Don’t be vulgar
When a lady crosses the pavement, she should raise her dress with the right hand, just above the ankle. Using both hands was considered vulgar because more leg would show. It could only be done if the mud on the road is very deep.
It is bad taste for a lady’s dress to drag along the street. This will cause people to criticize you and some people will treat you with contempt. (Can’t lift your skirt, can’t let it drag on the street. What’s a girl to do?)
A true lady will quietly go about her business not attracting attention to herself, especially not trying to attract the attention of the opposite sex. But they need to recognize people they know with a slight curtsey. If they see a friend, they must greet them with a few pleasant words. (Doesn’t seem quiet to me.)
Things women shouldn’t do on the street
Women shouldn't swing their arms when walking. That would attract attention and isn’t graceful.
Don’t eat while standing in the street.
Here's an odd one. Don't suck on the parasol handle. This must have been common enough bad habit it needed pointing out.
Only ill-bred women push through a crowd, talk or laugh loudly on the street or whisper in public conveyances.
Were men considered ill-bred if they did the same?
Men should not
Never imitate the bad habits of important people. Just because eminent men have poor penmanship, wear their hair long or have other proclivities, don't follow them. It doesn't bode well to imitate their accented eccentricities. I’m sure this same exhortation was given to young ladies.
What do you think about the etiquette of the street? Which ones do you find interesting? And which ones should we still have today?
Cindy Ervin Huff is an Award-winning author of Historical and Contemporary Romance. She loves infusing hope into her stories of broken people. She is addicted to reading and chocolate. Her idea of a vacation is visiting historical sites and an ideal date with her hubby of almost fifty years would be live theater.
Visit her website and sign up for her newsletter and receive some free short stories as a thank you. www.cindyervinhuff.com
Angelina’s Resolve: Book 1 of Village of Women
Proving her skills are equal to a man’s may cost her more than she ever imagined.
Modern-thinking Angelina DuBois is determined to prove her cousin Hiram wrong. He fired her from the architect firm she helped grow when her father’s will left the business to Hiram. Using her large inheritance and architectural degree, she sets out to create a village run by women—Resolve, Kansas.
Carpenter and Civil War veteran Edward Pritchard’s dream of building homes for Chicago’s elite must be put on hold until he gains references. Serving as a contractor under Angelina’s well-known DuBois name provides that opportunity. But can Angelina trust her handsome new carpenter to respect her as his boss? Will the project take Edward one step closer to his goals, or will it make him a laughingstock? Can these two strong-willed people find love amid such an unconventional experiment?