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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
If you saw my last post, you were left guessing as to what event I was furiously sewing for. I think most you guessed that it had to do with women’s suffrage… Yay you! The entire event wasn’t really about suffrage, but suffrage was a part of it. We went down to Plymouth, MA to be a part of a historic village event that was linked to the main Thanksgiving parade in town.
The historic village contained various groups from the early 17th century, groups from the 18th century, Marines from 1812, a unit from the Civil War, my usual dancing friends and I representing women’s suffrage c. 1914, and paratroopers from the 1940s. The parade was…a parade. There were historic groups in it (including some of the military groups I just mentioned), there were marching bands, there were floats, there were unicycles, and there were horses doing various things.
And I’ve got pictures! To start, here are some images of the parade:
Next, here are some images of our representation of Suffragists and our setup in the historic village:
The best part is that in addition to sharing a little bit about history with the public and getting to watch the Thanksgiving parade in all its glory, I was able to use this opportunity to build and wear an outfit showing off my recently completed 1917 Knitted Sweater of Angorina. I had to plan for cold weather, but I didn’t want to cover up my sweater! So I planned a faux fur hat to match an existing muff, a wool skirt, a polyester crepe blouse (in this case, the polyester was a great choice, because the fact that it wouldn’t breathe would help me stay warm and use up a random bit of fabric in my stash that had no other project in its future!), and did a mostly unnoticeable revamp on my 1860s/can-look-like-other-decades fur muff (which was essential, it turned out, for keeping my hands warm!). And to look stylish, I made gaiters to turn my 1920s American Duchess Gibsons into 19-teens looking spat-boots. And all of the fabrics were from my stash! The gaiters might just be my favorite part of the outfit, and both they and my fur hat will qualify for the next two HSF challenges, so you’ll see more detailed information on those soon! All in all, I managed to stay warm, except for my feet! I wore thick tights, but I didn’t think to wear extra socks, and my toes and feet were SO cold! Note to self: wear thick socks next time an all day outside event in the cold is on the horizon…
And here is my brand new 1917 outfit:
Despite last minute sewing for all of us, we all looked good and had fun wearing clothes from the 1910s while sharing a bit of important history with the public:
The 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in the US, was ratified in 1920, after over 70 years of struggle. I think it’s fitting that Thanksgiving and women’s suffrage were related events for us ladies this year. In addition to many other things, we’re thankful for those who fought to get women the right to vote!
Product links in this post contain an affiliate code, which provides a small benefit to my shoe fund. This does not affect my impressions and reviews of this product.
This video is a behind-the-scences look at the creation of the First Ladies Exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
It’s a really neat video! You get to see some insight into how the dresses and other pieces are displayed, how the dress forms that display them are created, as well as some great pictures of First Ladies and some very lovely dresses!
This ball included the use of dance cards, a practice I am aware of but have never participated in. It turns out that they are much more complicated than one thinks they might be! Why are the so complicated?
Well, it all sounds quite glorious and sophisticated. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “dance-card” as “a card bearing the names of (a woman’s) prospective dance partners at a dance.” In stories and books, a dance card is a memento one can keep so that after the ball is over she can muse about beaus and flirtations. Practically, a dance card might help a person remember who his or her next partner is, what kind of dance the next dance is, or allow a gentleman to ask for a dance later in the evening.
But wait! There are complications and confusions! Does everyone have a dance card, men and women? Does a person take off his or her gloves before writing in a dance card? (I attempted this both ways: it is quite challenging to write your name while wearing gloves…) Does one exchange dance cards with a prospective partner or ask the name of the person and write it herself? (It seems more effective to swap dance cards with your intended partner to allow for ease of spelling, etc. and, in a more romantic sense, so that you have that person’s handwriting in your dance card.) How does one attach the card to her wrist so that it doesn’t get lost? How does one attach the card to her wrist without the pencil sticking out (so that her white dress isn’t marked!)? Really, a lot of questions popped up that would not have made themselves apparent without practical application. Also, at least at this ball, not having a prearranged partner did not necessarily mean that you were not able to dance. I was able to dance most of the dances of the night, despite my somewhat empty dance card.
Below you can see a few historic dance card images and below that some images of the ball! If anyone has any research on the use or history of dance cards, please share. I’d love to learn more about the etiquette of dance card use!