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In both the upper and middle classes, there were certain expectations, or guiding principles that women had to follow in order to be called a lady. There were numerous etiquette guides and books published in this time period regarding dining, beauty, and social activities, and most of the newspapers and women's magazines included articles on how to be the perfect Victorian Lady. These are some of the most interesting forms of etiquette.
A Lady should always have an easy, becoming and graceful movement while engaged in a quadrille or promenade. It is more pleasing to the gentleman.
--from “Etiquette for the Ball Room”
Women were supposed to always be graceful and even something as enjoyable as dancing had to look effortless, and the woman always had to make sure that she appeared elegant and refined. It also has a reference to the fact that when dancing, the goal of the woman's etiquette was to please the man. Another mannerism that Victorian women followed in the ball room was that a lady should not attend a public ball without an escort, or that no lady should ever be left unattended (“Etiquette for the Ball Room”). This is just another example of how a woman needed a man in order for her to fit into society. It was considered rude if a woman were to ever be seen alone at a ball.
Dressing Room Etiquette
The dressing room of a lady was supposed to be her sanctuary, or a place where nobody except for her ever entered. It was a place where women were meant to admire themselves and make themselves look presentable at all times for their husbands. “The husband should always find the wife fresh, beautiful, sweet as a flower” (“The Lady's Dressing Room”). The dressing room was a place where the woman was to be vain and cover up or hide any imperfections that she may have had. The article above also asks, what is life or love without illusions? In order for her husband to be pleased, the woman was to retire to the dressing room and make herself beautiful, even if it included tricks. Above all, it was private. A lady was to look beautiful at all times, but make it look like it didn't take any effort at all. This was also the place in which the specific hairstyles of Victorian Ladies were created. It was proper etiquette to always wear the hair up.
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Dinner Table Etiquette
This was another aspect of manners that the Victorian women were concerned with. Things such as the cleanliness of the linen and utensils, and the way that the bread is cut were important details that a lady took into consideration for dinner parties. The salt even had to look neat and be made in a special way! The place settings were also important, and it was proper to not have any lights, things in the shape of flowers, or raised dishes that may interrupt communication between the guests (“Hints on Arranging”). Also, it was important for the carver of meat to have sharp knives and a large serving dish.
Ideal Victorian Woman
This etiquette eventually lead to what the ideal Victorian woman was supposed to be like. She was a busy and able figure who drew strength from her moral superiority and whose virtue was displayed in the service of others (“Ideals of Womanhood”). As long as the proper etiquette was followed, a Victorian woman was able to be considered a lady. The goal of a lady in this period was to serve others, and her etiquette and manners all helped her to do so. Anything that she did from having dinner parties to curling her hair was to please her husband and society, and these are just some of the etiquette rules that were provided to guide her along.
“Etiquette for the Ball Room” Universal Dancing Master. By Lucien O. Carpenter. 1880.
“The Lady's Dressing Room” Etiquette and Advice Manuals. Cassel & Company, Limited. 1893.
“Hints on Arranging the Dinner Table” Cassels Household Guide. Vol 4. 1880. http://www.victorianlondon.org/cassels/cassels-20.htm
“Ideals of Womanhood in Victorian Britain” January 2001.