Conversation Etiquette

Queen Victoria in Conversation with the Prince and Princess of Wales, conversation etiquette
Queen Victoria in Conversation with the Prince and Princess of Wales, Author’s Collection

Conversation was something that could happen everywhere — at formal dinner parties, on streets, in coffee houses, at public amusements, and when traveling. Charming conversation was one type of conversation, and it was the type of conversation that had numerous amiable qualities: “kindness, politeness, patience, and forbearance.” Sometimes, however, conversations were nothing more than “frivolous,” and people were warned that although young ladies often enjoyed frivolous “small talk,” there were some young ladies who enjoyed a “most sensible discourse.” Certain conversations were also, to a degree, “sacred” and were not to “be repeated.”

But no matter what type of conversation people enjoyed, nineteenth century people were warned not to imagine themselves more important than another person. In fact, it was noted that people were to consider themselves “one of the multitude … [as] people have things of much more interest to engross their attention than your words or looks.” Continue reading

Men’s Shooting and Hunting Costumes 1866-1882

Typical Hunting Costume of the 1860s, Public Domain
Typical Hunting Costume of the 1860s, Public Domain

Shooting and hunting were popular pastimes for nineteenth century men, and these activities required not only “the kind or form of garments worn by gentlemen who go in search of pleasure to the stubble fields or moorlands” but outfits that were functional. In fact, the main rule when purchasing shooting or hunting wear was that it be “adaptable for the various movements of the figure…[rather than fit] the taste or whims of the wearers.”

That was also the reason why shooting costumes tended to change little from year to year, because if they did change, the changes were not always improvements. The Habits of Good Society, noted this claiming there was “a scale of honor among clothes” and reported there was “more honor in an old hunting-coat than in a new one.” Further, the author noted that “a man who wears a red coat to hunt in, should be able to hunt, and not sneak through gates or dodge over gaps.”

No one wanted to pity the hunter who was ill-dressed or who attempted to hunt in a frock coat or dress coat. Hunters believed the perfect outfit was “‘cords’…light in color…a red coat…scarf of cashmere…cap of dark green…[and] Hessians.” Although the outfit to the right does not necessarily reflect the “perfect hunting outfit,” it does show the typical style worn in the mid 1860s. Other typical hunting and shooting outfits are shown below and cover the years 1866 through 1882. Continue reading

The Bicycle and Fashions for Fall 1898

Victorian Bicycle Fashions: Typical Female Bicycle Costume for Fall 1898
Typical Female Bicycle Costume for Fall 1898, Author’s Collection

Bicycling was a popular pastime in the late 1800s, so much so, it ushered in the “bicycle craze,” a craze that was in full swing in Europe and North America by the 1890s. The original bicycling problems that were related to the penny-farthing — comfort, safety, speed, and steering — were essentially resolved by the late 1800s and that allowed for a suitable bicycle for ordinary female riders. Because of this, the bicycle soon went from an everyday fad to a hobby and thousands of women began riding the bicycle.

America’s devoted feminist and social reformer, Susan B. Anthony, coined the bicycle the “freedom machine.” Anthony noted how the bicycle allowed women unprecedented independence. Edward Sandford Martin, founder of The Harvard Lampoon and literary editor of Life magazine, noted the bicycle’s popularity among Victorian women too. He maintained women had claimed it and marked it as their own, which encouraged even more women to join in the bicycle craze and causing the bicycle to reach its pinnacle in 1900 when 1.4 billion bicycles were in use worldwide. Continue reading

Gretna Green – The Place for Elopements

Gretna Green
The Elopement by John Collett, Courtesy of Wikipedia

In 1753 the “Marriage Act in Churches,” popularly known as Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act, passed in England. It suppressed clandestine marriages by requiring English and Welsh couples to marry in a church and to be 21 or older to marry without parental consent. This resulted in clandestine marriages being conducted in Scotland where the requirements for marriage were different. Thus, Gretna Green became the notable spot for marriages by eloping couples because it was just over the border. Continue reading

Ideas of Female Beauty in the 1700 and 1800s

Venus, the Classical Image of Youthful Female Beauty, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Venus, the Classical Image of Youthful Female Beauty, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Beauty was important to women, but, perhaps, it was even more important to men, because it was a man who noted in the late 1700s that a woman’s “first merit is that of beauty.” People seemed to have particular ideas of what beauty entailed and wrote about it. André Félibien, a French chronicler of the arts and the official court historian to Louis XIV of France in the 1600s, provided the following classical description of beauty often using Venus as the ideal image: Continue reading

Foster Powell – The Celebrated Pedestrian

Foster Powell, Public Domain
Foster Powell, Public Domain

Foster Powell was born in 1734, and when he left his little Yorkshire village of Horseforth, near Leeds, at the age of 26 and headed to London, village inhabitants thought little of him in respect to either his mental or physical capabilities. In fact, he had a reputation “of being a quiet inoffensive lad, shy, and somewhat unsocial, with nothing in the faintest degree remarkable in him, except his fondness for long, solitary walks.” However, it would be his long solitary walks that would take him from an ordinary man to extraordinary fame, and for 20 years he would add to his fame becoming one of the most celebrated pedestrians of the eighteenth century.

Powell was described by people as mild and gentle in manner. Physically he was described as

“tall and spare, rather over five feet nine inches in height, very strong about the loins, and with thighs of immense power … His costume was eccentric, consisting of leather breeches and a jacket and a tall hat — about the most uncomfortable garb, one could think … could be devised for a pedestrian.”

Continue reading

Food and Drink Adulteration in the 1700 and 1800s

Food and Drink Adulteration: Friedrich Christian Accum, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Friedrich Christian Accum, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Friedrich Christian Accum, a German chemist, arrived in London in 1793. He soon discovered that food and drink adulteration were occurring on a regular basis in England and that it caused deleterious and even fatal effects to those who consumed such items. In 1820, he published a treatise on adulteration in food and drink and noted that “there is none more reprehensible, and at the same time more prevalent, than the sophistication of the various articles of food.” Accum also claimed that adulteration had become such an “unprincipled and nefarious practice,” that it touched “almost every commodity which can be classed among either the necessaries or the luxuries of life … in every part of the United Kingdom.”

Among the items regularly counterfeited or adulterated were drinks (beer, tea, coffee, spirits, and wine), bread, cheese, pickled foods, and sweet treats. In fact, by the early 1800s, the practice of adulteration had become so common, nineteenth century people developed a taste for fraudulent substances in their food and drink and often did not realize anything was wrong with what they were ingesting until it was too late. Continue reading

Bicycle Face – A Fictitious Disease of the 1800s

Bicycle Face: The Bicycle Craze, Author's Collection
The Bicycle Craze, Author’s Collection

Once the bicycling craze took possession of bicyclists, many wheelmen and wheelwomen supposedly began suffering from a disease known as “bicycle face.” Doctors soon gave warnings that women, girls, and middle-aged men should avoid excessive cycling. One explanation as to why bicycle face occurred was that it came about when a cyclist over exerted his or herself while also attempting to balance and maintain an upright position on a bicycle. However, in reality, bicycle face was nothing more than a fictitious disease invented by the medical community, The medical community wanted to discourage women from bicycling, as bicycling gave women a sense of independence and that threatened nineteenth-century men. Continue reading

Hat Fashions for September 1898

Hat Fashions for September 1898: Dressy Toque, Author's Collection
Dressy Toque, Author’s Collection

Fashionable hats for September 1898 were “variable and whimsical” They also included toques, carriage hats, and leghorns. One of the latest fashions for millinery in 1898 was the forward tilting hat with a drooped effect over the eyes. Trimmings at this time were often “elaborate, and the long spangled quill and spangled wing [vied] … with the ostrich feather and sweeping aigrette. Massed upon the brim and about the crown [were also] nets, laces, and mousseline de soie,” a fine, lightweight crisp fabric created from silk.

Among the fashionable hats of September 1898 was the Dressy Toque, shown to the left. It was designed for the theatre or for other dressy events. It was created from black puffed chiffon, and to give the toque height, “a pair of handsomely jetted curled quills [were] placed at the left side.” In addition, brilliant red silk roses were placed low so that they touched the hair giving it “a stylish completion.” Continue reading

Pistol Dueling, Its Etiquette and Rules

Portrayal of Fictional Pistol Duel Between Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky, Written By Alexander Pushkin, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Portrayal of Fictional Pistol Duel Between Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Duels of the seventeenth and eighteenth century were conducted primarily with swords, although by the late eighteenth century they were fought with pistols. Fortunately, pistol dueling fell out of fashion by the mid-nineteenth century. However, prior to its demise a “Royal Code of Honor” existed and was adhered to by dueling Principals and Seconds. The code stated, “No duel can be considered justifiable, which can be declined with honor, therefore, an appeal to arms should always be the last resource.” Continue reading