Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Etiquette at the Gilded Age Ball

by Susan G Mathis

Balls were a big part of Gilded Age social life—and filled with strict social etiquette. Besides private balls, there were public charity balls, costume balls, and other balls organized by associations and societies. And there were debutant balls for women to be presented to society.

But there were intricate, important, and very strict rules for what to wear, what to bring, who to dance with, what to talk about. There was even a manual written in 1880.

The manual stressed what to wear to a ball: "For the ladies, an exquisite, light-colored gown with a décolleté revealing the shoulders and arms, very long gloves and light pumps. They must carry in one hand a fan made from ivory or mother-of-pearl and also have their dance card. Many ladies prefer, as do I, a bodice in a shallow square-cut or heart-shape to a very décolleté gown. The men should wear a black suit or tailcoat, white tie, black trousers and polished shoes. White gloves are by far preferable; if however one wishes to wear gloves dyed a cream or pearl-grey colour, one must be careful that the warmth of the hands does not cause the dye to bleed onto the bodice of the dance partner."

Can you imagine? 

Furthermore, young ladies were to dress modestly; only married women could have flamboyant gowns, hairdos and accessories. A fan was a must—closed, open, or fluttering communicated refusal, interest, or excitement.

Dancing held a whole other set of rules. A young lady’s dances could be reserved on a dance card, and a man could ask any lady to dance. The lady was always chaperoned, usually by her mother, who would ensure the rules were followed. A man could dance only once with the same woman, and if a lady refused a dance, he mustn’t argue. And at private balls, men were to ensure that every lady had at least one dance. Needless to say, one growing up in such ball-centric social circles had a lot to learn!

About Rachel’s Reunion:

Summer 1904

Rachel Kelly serves the most elite patrons at the famed New Frontenac Hotel on Round Island. She has wondered about her old beau, Mitch, for nearly two years, ever since he toyed with her affections while on Calumet Island, then left for the high seas and taken her heart with him. Now he’s back, opening the wound she thought was healed.

Mitch O’Keefe returns to claim his bride but finds it more difficult than he thought. Returning to work at the very place he hated, he becomes captain of a New Frontenac Hotel touring yacht, just to be near Rachel. But his attempts to win her back are thwarted, especially when a wealthy patron seeks her attention. Who will Rachel choose?

About Susan:

Susan G Mathis is an international award-winning, multi-published author of stories set in the beautiful Thousand Islands in upstate NY. Susan has been published more than twenty-five times in full-length novels, novellas, and non-fiction books. She has nine in her fiction line including Peyton’s Promise. Find out more at