“Mind Your Manners”

Everyday Victorian and Edwardian Etiquette

For the Historic Re-Enactor


Adapted by Kate Anderson

From Professor Thomas E.  Hill’s

“Essential Handbook” – originally published 1890



"I offer here, dear Reader, a basic, everyday guide to Etiquette from the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It is a fascinating window into everyday life of the times. Moreover, this basic guide offers the Historic Re-Enactor some essential tips in how to enhance the power of costuming with the power of grace and good manners. The character of the Individual was an essential factor in Victorian and Edwardian Society, for it influenced how one selected friends, acquaintances, business associates, wives and husbands. Your manners of conduct often highly reflected not only your social class, but your Character and your Respectability. The charm of a period-perfect Edwardian Evening Gown, or the magnificence of an impeccably wrought Civil War Uniform is completed only by the simple addition of good manners."

– Kate Anderson

Making Introductions

       Please apply titles when making introductions (Honorable, Reverend, Professor, etc.)    For example, in introducing a clergyman to a local official, it is proper to say: “Mr. Nicks, permit me to present to you the Reverend Mr. Miller.”  Addressing Mr. Nicks, he says: “Mr. Miller is the pastor of the Antioch Fellowship Church at Sedalia, Missouri.”  Addressing Mr. Miller, he continues: “Mr.  Nicks is at present the Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Lenexa.”  

       To approach someone in a boisterous manner, saying, “Hello, Old Fellow!” “Hello Bob” or using kindred expressions, indicates ill-breeding.  If approached, however, in this vulgar manner, it is better to give a civil reply, and address that person respectfully, in which case he is quite likely to be ashamed of his own conduct.  

       Husbands and wives indicate pleasant conjugal relation existing when they address each other in the family circle by their Christian names, though the terms of respect, “Mr.” and “Mrs.,” may be applied to each among strangers. 




General Rules of Etiquette


           Never point at another person.

       Never wantonly frighten others.

       Never make yourself the hero of your own story.

       Never pick your teeth or clean your nails in company.

       Never question a servant or a child about family matters.

       Never call attention to the features or form of anyone present.

       Never seem to notice a scar, deformity, or defect of anyone present. 

       Never fail to offer the easiest and best seat in the room to an invalid, an elderly person, or a lady.



Speaking to Children

       When speaking to a boy under fifteen years of age, outside the circle of relatives, among comparative strangers, call him by his Christian name, such as “Charles,” “William,” etc.

       Above that age, apply the “Mr.” as in “Mr. Brown,” etc.  To do so will please him, will raise his self-respect, and will be tendering a courtesy.  

       It is an insult to address a boy or girl who is a stranger to you as “Bub” or “Sis.”  Children are sometimes very sensitive on these points, resenting such method of being addressed, while they very highly appreciate being spoken to respectfully.  Thus, if the child’s name is unknown, to say “My Boy,” or “My Little Lad,” “My Girl, or “My Little Lady,” will be to gain favor and set the child a good example in politeness.  Children forever gratefully remember those who treat them respectfully.

       The inferior is to be introduced to the superior: the younger to the older; the gentleman to the lady.

       To shake hands when introduced is optional; between gentlemen it is common, and oftentimes between an elderly and a young person.  It is not common between an unmarried lady and a gentleman; a slight bow between them when introduced being all that etiquette requires.  The married lady will use her discretion when introduced to gentlemen (she should not be expected to shake hands).  

       Ladies being introduced should never bow hastily, but with slow and measured dignity.  


Etiquette of Shaking Hands

       Present a cordial grasp and clasp the hand firmly, shaking it warmly for a period of two or three seconds, and then relinquishing the grasp entirely.  It is rude to grasp the hand very tightly or to shake it over-vigorously.  To hold it a very long time is often very embarrassing, and is a breach of etiquette.

       In shaking hands, as evidence of cordiality, regard, and respect, offer the right hand, unless the same be engaged; in such a case, apologize, by saying “Excuse my left hand.”  It is the right hand that carries the sword in the time of war, and its extension is emblematic of friendliness in time of peace.


Etiquette of the Street

       A gentleman should give a lady his arm.  A gentleman may take two ladies upon his arms, but under no circumstances should the lady take the arms of two gentleman.  

       A gentleman will assist a lady out of a carriage.  When service is thus performed, he will raise his hat, and bow.  

       No gentleman will smoke when walking with, or standing in the presence of, a lady.  

       No gentleman should stand on the street corners, and make remarks about ladies passing by.

       Ladies should avoid walking rapidly upon the street, as it is ungraceful and unbecoming.   

       Staring at people, spitting, looking back after they pass, saluting people across the street, calling out loudly, or laughing at people as they go by are all evidences of ill breeding.


The Etiquette of Conversation

       Be cool, collected, and self-possessed, using respectful, chaste, and appropriate language.

       Recollect that the object of conversation is to entertain and amuse.

       Be patient.  

       Do not always commence a conversation by an allusion to the weather.

       Do not, when narrating an incident, continually say “you see,” “you know,” etc.

       Do not use profanity, vulgar terms, slang, phrases, or words of double meaning, or language that will bring the blush to any person.

       Do not intersperse your language with fancy foreign words.  It shows affectation, and will draw ridicule upon you.

       Do not make a pretense of gentility, nor parade the fact that you are a descendant of any notable family.  You must pass for just what you are, and must stand on your own merit.

       Do not make a parade of being acquainted with distinguished or wealthy people, or having been to college, or of having visited foreign lands.  All this is no evidence of any real genuine worth on your part. 

       Do not attempt to pry into the private affairs of others by asking what their profits are, what things cost, whether Beatrice ever “had a beau,” and why Mary never got married.

       Do not tell too many long stories.

       Do not indulge in satire.

       Never will a gentleman allude to conquests which he may have made with ladies.


Lifting Skirts When Walking

       When crossing the pavement, the lady should raise her dress with the right hand, a little above the ankle.  To raise the dress with both hands is vulgar, and can be excused only when the mud is very deep.  

       Allowing a dress to trail on the street is in exceedingly bad taste.  Such a street costume simply calls forth criticism and contempt from the more sensible people.


 Always Remember: 

The First and Last Rule of Etiquette is The Golden Rule








                                                                     © Michelle Young 2012