Category Archives: 1870s

19CBRE: Etiquette For The Ballroom ‘Quick List’

For your 19th century ballroom edification today, we have a list of etiquette points from The Royal Ball-Room Guide and Etiquette of the Drawing Room, 1877 (available through The Library of Congress). This is a great digest of lots of  etiquette points on a variety of topics.

I believe many modern ladies and gentlemen could take note of many of these points when attending recreations of 19th century balls. My top choices for attendees and personal favorites are numbers 4, 11, 18, and 22.

Do you have a favorite (or two)? Did any surprise you? Have you been to a recreated 19th century ball and longed for any of these points to be adopted by modern ball guests?

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19CBRE: The Height Of Ill-Breeding

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The Soiree by Jean Beraud

Never anticipate the point or joke of an anecdote told in your presence. If you have heard the story before, it may be new to others, and the narrator should always be allowed to finish it in his own words. To take any sentence from the mouth of another person, before he has time to utter it, is the height of ill-breeding. Avoid it carefully.

Be careful always to speak in a distinct, clear voice; at the same time avoid talking too loudly, there is a happy medium between mumbling and screaming. Strive to attain it.

This particular quote is from page 14 of the The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness (1873), source here. Warning to all: avoid the “height of ill-breeding” in the new year! And, happy new year!

19CBRE: Stick To Your Own Language

Life has been very busy of late and I haven’t any new sewing or event pictures ready to share, but I do have another installment of 19CBRE ready, so let’s go with that for now.

This one is following up on the last 19CBRE post about the use of those “I can’t remember the specific thing I’m mentioning” phrases. In a similar vein, this excerpt is also about what one should and shouldn’t say in conversation. It is from the same source, The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness (1873), page 14:

It is a mark of ill breeding to use French phrases or words, unless you are sure your companion is a French scholar, and, even then, it is best to avoid them. Above all, do not use any foreign word or phrase, unless you have the language perfectly at your command. I heard a lady once use a Spanish quotation; she had mastered that one sentence alone; but a Cuban gentleman, delighted to meet an American who could converse with him in his own tongue, immediately addressed her in Spanish. Embarrassed and ashamed, she was obliged to confess that her knowledge of the language was confined to one quotation.

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A Trying Moment by George du Maurier

Good advice to follow in the 19th century and even today in many situations. Of course, our modern sense of etiquette being less strict than it used to be, a modern person perhaps wouldn’t be quite as embarrassed as a lady from the 1870s, but still it seems like a situation that is unnecessary and easy to avoid.

Introduction To A New Thin-Gummy: 19CBRE

I’ve been inspired lately to read (and in some cases skim at the very least) 19th century etiquette manuals,  especially those books and sections that pertain to 19th century ballroom etiquette. What got me started was perusing various posts at the blog Recreating the 19th Century Ballroom. Barbara posts tantalizing snippets from these sorts of manuals and I wanted to see the context and read more, so I went back to the original sources.

Looking for one thing leads to another, as you probably know, and so it was with etiquette manuals. Once you find one you are led to others and it’s just one big rabbit hole. In my perusal of these manuals, I’ve come across amusing and interesting sections that I’d like to share. In addition, I’ve also started thinking about 19th century ballroom etiquette and how much or little a modern historic ballroom atmosphere can replicate. It’s really quite fascinating!

I’m planning a series of posts relating to this general topic, exploring some of my thoughts as well as sharing quotes from the manuals. I don’t want to commit to any sort of regular posting, but I’m thinking I’ll just intersperse these posts amongst my usual parade of dressmaking and event pictures with the abbreviation 19CBRE (19th Century Ball Room Etiquette) to note what these posts are about. (It’s not a typo, in these manuals, the word we now spell ballroom was separated into two words “ball room.”)

To start, here is a short quote from The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness (1873), page 14, source here:

Never use the phrases, “What-d-ye call it,” “Thin-gummy,” “What’s his name,” or any such substitutes for a proper name or place. If you cannot recall the names you wish to use, it is better not to tell the story or incident connected with them. No lady of high breeding will ever use the substitutes in conversation.

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I am so guilty of using phrases like this in life (and at historic events…). I forget what I’m talking about within a few seconds of finishing a sentence sometimes! So when I want to continue the conversation these phrases pop right up. According to these 19th century standards, I’m of low breeding and obviously not polite… but in our modern world these phrases, while being casual, don’t mark you as being ill-bred, at least to me. I’ve spent time thinking about the fact that this very casual way of speaking is probably not appropriate for a 19th century lady, but that goes back to my currently unexplored thoughts about how far we choose to go when recreating the past at a public event such as a ball (a topic I’ll be sure to post about, someday!).

But thin-gummy is just so amusing! I really feel like I need to work that into modern conversation just because I can. In fact, I worked it into the title of this post and I hope you can imagine the grin on my face because of it!

Do you use these sorts of phrases in your modern life or at historic events? Had it ever occurred to you that in the 19th century these sorts of phrases were to be avoided?

Very Purple Quilted Slippers

Recently, while looking through the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Collection for entirely unrelated items, I came across these very purple quilted slippers. I like them, but I also feel they are a little loud. Quilting? And purple? And velvet? And bows? There’s just a lot going on. They look pretty comfortable, though! How do you feel about these? And can you imagine what sort of dress would go with them? Perhaps a white cotton flounced one with purple trim

1865-1885 Silk Slippers (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Pleated trimming on dress (c. 1870)

c. 1870 Dress at Smith College

Just recently we looked at pleated trim on 1860s gowns. While I was thinking of that post I was reminded of this gown, which has fabulous pleated trim! It is in the historic costume collection at Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts. It was prepared for display and further storage during a historic clothing conservation workshop I took part in a few years ago.

I love the pleated trimming on this dress! It reminds me of origami, in that simple pleats and folds combine to create such a complicated looking outcome.

c. 1870 Dress at Smith College

c. 1870 Dress at Smith College

Pleated trimming on c. 1870 Dress at Smith College

Did you look closely? The pleats are actually just box pleats whose outward pleats have been pressed up or down respectively at the very edges to create the diamond shapes. It’s so neat! I do hope to be able to use this pleated motif on a reproduction dress at some point. I’ll have to scrounge up lots of patience to make yards of a trimming that will be so detailed… but it will be amazing and if I do it in manageable sections it actually does sound like fun!