Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Thursday, May 7, 2009

*Gasp* "I saw your ankle!" Improprieties in Regency England

Every society has what it says is socially acceptable and then of course they have their improprieties too.

Today I’m going to talk about the Regency era in England, and what was considered improper!

Titles, addresses and peerage, oh my! Okay, this wasn’t just from the Regency era, but I must say, while writing, I am obsessive about making sure I get all these things correctly. Such as, you don’t address the Duke of Suffolk as, my lord, but your grace. And the daughter of Richard Jones, Baron Hollingsworth is not, my lady, but Miss Jones. Click here to visit my favorite website for figuring these out.

When you go to a dinner party, soup will be served first. Do not by any means eat your soup from the tip of your spoon, to do so is a major social blunder. Soup is consumed from the side.

Calling Cards. Don’t even bother leaving your bed chamber if you do not possess your own calling cards. Cards were made of excellent quality paper and engraved with your name. For a man they would have his address, but a woman’s would have her name, and her husband’s name if she was married. But remember don’t decorate your card, keep it simple. Decorations on a card were considered bad taste. Folks kept their precious calling cards in nice little decorated cases. When ladies arrived in town, they would often leave their cards with their friends to let them know they’d arrived. Cards were left in a salver by the front door—in easy view of incoming guests who would perhaps snoop to see who is calling. The lady could then call on you in person or send you her card in return. Under no circumstances would a young unmarried lady leave her card with a bachelor. Scandal!!!

If you encounter a lady you are little acquainted with, and you are a man, you must first wait to be acknowledged by her before you tip you hat and offer a greeting. I rather like this rule and wish it still stood today. Do not speak to the lady unless spoken to first gentlemen!

A gentleman does not smoke in the presence of ladies.

When enjoying society balls and other functions, a lady never dances with one man more than three times. Not unless you are engaged, or want everyone to think you are.

A lady never wears pearls or diamonds in the morning.

A young lady did not ride along St. James Street in an open carriage, and she better not be caught walking! It was simply not done, and if you dared you would be cast as an improper imp. Why? St. James Street was where the popular gentleman’s clubs presided, and any young lady could be abused by the men attending the clubs. And when I say abused, I mean stared at. Maybe a smile even…

Both men and women must wear gloves at all times when venturing into public. When a man grasps her hand to kiss her respectfully on the wrist, you certainly wouldn’t want there to be skin on skin contact.

Everyone was right and proper. If a woman lifted her dress a little and showed her ankle, it was considered very provocative. Hmm…if an ankle was bad, then why was it okay to enhance and show off your décolletage?

These are certainly not all the rules of society, but some of my favorites. Care to share any more?

Cheers!
Eliza

10 comments:

Barbara said...

WHat a great post! I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks, Eliza.

Sarah Simas said...

WOW! Eliza, how cool are you? That was an awesome post!

I found a few of those worth a good chuckle. An ankle? Now days, I'd be happy with that. We leave nothing to the imagination.

I think it would be fun to impose a couple of those rules on todays youth. LOL

Molly said...

Great post as always! But now I get to date myself. When I was in school, we were expected to wear white gloves any time we were in public. We had dances, twice a year, with a military academy. The boys wore white gloves, as did we. God help you if you took them off! The poor boys were buttoned up in wool to their necks. We girls had to line up before meeting them---to be sure we were properly 'covered'---and the ultimate mortification would have been to have crepe sewn on your hem or bodice. Needless to say, 'rebellion' set in. One of the things I refused to do was purchase or carry visiting cards. I was told I was uncouth, had no right to be called a 'lady,' and Sister would personally pray for rain on my graduation. (She did and it did.)

I am glad most of this silliness is gone. I do agree, though, that it should be a woman's right to decide whether or not she will acknowledge a man. For example, on meeting, she should be the one to offer her hand, or not, as she sees fit.

And, as you say, there are the rules and what we did to them. White gloves or no, you can always find a corner to kiss in! (Allow me to mention that, at a dance, hardly anyone thinks to look in the chapel! Los of dark corners there!)

CatPA said...

I love this entry!

As for showing and enhancing décolletage -- until more recent times that was simply for the care and feeding of babies. The ankle was indicating there were legs attached and who knows where THAT could lead!

Ms. Lucy said...

Love this post! Imagine having to keep up with all those etiquette rules? Mind you, today there's practically nothing left to adhere to...It's gone almost completely the other way.

Victoria Janssen said...

What amuses me is when your historical sources give you examples of people flouting rules. So fun!

Emma Lai said...

Thanks for the link to proper forms of address! I love all of the rules of etiquette.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Eliza, a great post! I have tried to write a Regency, and some day may get it done. Another rule was being asked if you wanted an introduction. The higher ranking person was asked, "Your Grace, my I present my sister?" or if all being equal, the lady was asked if she wanted the introduction. I'm not really sure what was done if the person said no...can you imagine?

A.K.

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Barbara!

Thank you Sarah! So true...Now they have rules like, if your belly button or thong shows, you will be sent home from school...

Molly, thank you for sharing!!! How fascinating! Things always seem to have a way of coming around again, so I wonder if we will see any of these rules again?

Thank you CatPA, LOL, that makes sense! Don't let anyone catch a glimpse of your knees for sure!

Lucy you are so right! The biggest thing we try to teach today is for kids to say please and thank you, let alone have any other type of etiquette!

Victoria, those are hilarious! Whenever I'm writing a story, I try to have my characters mess up or straight up ignore the rules, it makes it a little more exciting :)

You're welcome Emma!!! Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks Anna! I'm sure it happened. Can you imagine? That would be the cut direct, absolute humiliation!

Caffey said...

LOVE THIS Eliza! So neat. This is what I've always love learning about, because I've been always fascinated with the society rules during the different time periods, especially with the dresses, the dance card, etc!

Thanks for a great post of info!