1860s French Fashions and English Ballroom Etiquette

I found some great images by French photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Wikimedia Commons. Rather than create a huge picture gallery, I’m adding an excerpt on ballroom etiquette found in Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette published in 1875 (although similar versions were around in the 1860s.) Click on an image to enlarge.

s the number of guests at a dinner-party is regulated by the size of the table, so should the number of invitations to a ball be limited by the proportions of the ball-room. A prudent hostess will always invite a few more guests than she really desires to entertain, in the certainty that there will be some deserters when the appointed evening comes round; but she will at the same time remember that to overcrowd her room is to spoil the pleasure of those who love dancing, and that a party of this kind when too numerously attended is as great a failure as one at which too few are present.

A room which is nearly square, yet a little longer than it is broad, will be found the most favourable for a ball. It admits of two quadrille parties, or two round dances, at the same time. In a perfectly square room this arrangement is not so practicable or pleasant. A very long and narrow room is obviously of the worst shape for the purpose of dancing, and is fit only for quadrilles and country dances.

The top of the ball-room is the part nearest the orchestra. In a private room, the top is where it would be if the room were a dining-room. It is generally at the farthest point from the door. Dancers should be careful to ascertain the top of the room before taking their places, as the top couples always lead the dances.

A good floor is of the last importance in a ball-room. In a private house. nothing can be better than a smooth, well-stretched holland, with the carpet beneath.

Abundance of light and free ventilation are indispensable to the spirits and comfort of the dancers.

Good music is as necessary to the prosperity of a ball as good wine to the excellence of a dinner. No hostess should tax her friends for this part of the entertainment. It is the most injudicious economy imaginable. Ladies who would prefer to dance are tied to the pianoforte; and as few amateurs have been trained in the art of playing dance music with that strict attention to time and accent which is absolutely necessary to the comfort of the dancers, a total and general discontent is sure to result. To play dance music thoroughly well is a branch of the art which requires considerable practice. It is as different from every other kind of playing as whale fishing is from fly fishing. Those who give private balls will do well ever to bear this in mind, and to provide skilled musicians for the evening. For a small party, a piano and cornopean make a very pleasant combination. Unless where several instruments are engaged, we do not recommend the introduction of the violin : although in some respects the finest of all solo instruments, it is apt to sound thin and shrill when employed on mere inexpressive dance tunes, and played by a mere dance player.

Invitations to a ball should be issued in the name of the lady of the house, and written on small note paper of the best quality. Elegant printed forms, some of them printed in gold or silver, are to be had at every stationer’s by those who prefer them. The paper may be gilt-edged, but not coloured. The sealing-wax used should be of some delicate hue. An invitation to a ball should be sent out at least ten days before the evening appointed. A fortnight, three weeks, and even a month may be allowed in the way of notice.

Not more than two or three days should be permitted to elapse before you reply to an invitation of this kind. The reply should always be addressed to the lady of the house, and should be couched in the same person as the invitation. The following are the forms generally in use :—

The old form of “presenting compliments” is now out of fashion.

The lady who gives a ball (It will be understood that we use the word “ball” to signify a private party, where there is dancing, as well as a public ball) should endeavour to secure an equal number of dancers of both sexes.  Many private parties are spoiled by the preponderance of young ladies, some of whom never get partners at all, unless they dance with each other.

A room should in all cases be provided for the accommodation of the ladies. In this room there ought to be several looking-glasses; attendants to assist the fair visitors in the arrangement of their hair and dress; and some place in which the cloaks and shawls can be laid in order, and found at a moment’s notice. It is well to affix tickets to the cloaks, giving a duplicate at the same time to each lady, as at the public theatres and concert-rooms. Needles and thread should also be at hand, to repair any little accident incurred in dancing.

Another room should be devoted to refreshments, and kept amply supplied with coffee, lemonade, ices, wine, and biscuits during the evening. Where this cannot be arranged, the refreshments should be handed round between the dances.

The question of supper is one which so entirely depends on the means of those who give a ball or evening party, that very little can be said upon it in a treatise of this description. Where money is no object, it is of course always preferable to have the whole supper, “with all appliances and means to boot,” sent in from some first-rate house. It spares all trouble whether to the entertainers or their servants, and relieves the hostess of every anxiety. Where circumstances render such a course imprudent, we would only observe that a home-provided supper, however simple, should be good of its kind, and abundant in quantity. Dancers are generally hungry people, and feel themselves much aggrieved if the supply of sandwiches proves unequal to the demand.

Great inconvenience is often experienced through the difficulty of procuring cabs at the close of an evening party. Gentlemen who have been dancing, and are unprepared for walking, object to go home on foot, or seek vehicles for their wives and daughters. Female servants who have been in attendance upon the visitors during a whole evening ought not to be sent out. If even men-servants are kept, they may find it difficult to procure as many cabs as are necessary. The best thing that the giver of a private ball can do under these circumstances, is to engage a policeman with a lanthorn to attend on the pavement during the evening, and to give notice during the morning at a neighbouring cab-stand, so as to ensure a sufficient number of vehicles at the time when they are likely to be required.

A ball generally begins about half-past nine or ten o’clock.

To attempt to dance without a knowledge of dancing is not only to make one’s self ridiculous, but one’s partner also. No lady has a right to place a partner in this absurd position.

Never forget a ball-room engagement. To do so is to commit an unpardonable offence against good breeding.

On entering the ball-room, the visitor should at once seek the lady of the house, and pay her respects to her. Having done this, she may exchange salutations with such friends and acquaintances as may be in the room.

No lady should accept an invitation to dance from a gentleman to whom she has not been introduced. In case any gentleman should commit the error of so inviting her, she should not excuse herself on the plea of a previous engagement, or of fatigue, as to do so would imply that she did not herself attach due importance to the necessary ceremony of introduction. Her best reply would be to the effect that she would have much pleasure in accepting his invitation, if he would procure an introduction to her. This observation may be taken as applying only to public balls. At a private party the host and hostess are sufficient guarantees for the respectability of their guests; and although a gentleman would show a singular want of knowledge of the laws of society in acting as we have supposed, the lady who should reply to him as if he were merely an impertinent stranger in a public assembly-room would be implying an affront to her entertainers. The mere fact of being assembled together under the roof of a mutual friend is in itself a kind of general introduction of the guests to each other.

An introduction given for the mere purpose of enabling a lady and gentleman to go through a dance together does not constitute an acquaintanceship. The lady is at liberty to pass the gentleman in the park the next day without recognition.

It is not necessary that a lady should be acquainted with the steps, in order to walk gracefully and easily through a quadrille. An easy carriage and a knowledge of the figure is all that is requisite. A round dance, however, should on no account be attempted without a thorough knowledge of the steps, and some previous practice. No person who has not a good ear for time and tune need hope to dance well.

No lady should accept refreshments from a stranger at a public ball; for she would thereby lay herself under a pecuniary obligation. For these she must rely on her father, brothers, or old friends.

Good taste forbids that a lady should dance too frequently with the same partner at either a public or private ball. Engaged persons should be careful not to commit this conspicuous solecism.

Engagements for one dance should not be made while the present dance is yet in progress.

Never attempt to take a place in a dance which has been previously engaged.

Withdraw from a private ball-room as quietly as possible, so that your departure may not be observed by others, and cause the party to break up. If you meet the lady of the house on your way out, take your leave of her in such a manner that her other guests may not suppose you are doing so ; but do not seek her out for that purpose.

Never be seen without gloves in a ball-room, though it were for only a few moments. Ladies who dance much and are particularly soigné in matters relating to the toilette, take a second pair of gloves to replace the first when soiled.

A thoughtful hostess will never introduce a bad dancer to a good one, because she has no right to punish one friend in order to oblige another.

It is not customary for married persons to dance together in society.

Get Out The Tennis Racquets And Persian Carpets! It’s Victorian Garden Party Time!

The season for garden parties is almost here. Soon your mailbox will be overflowing with invitations. You must get a jump on your party planning, because as the anonymous author of  Party-Giving On Every Scale writes, “The ladies of each county consider it incumbent upon them to entertain their neighbors at least once or twice during the summer months.” You must come up with menus, erect tents, and find a military band to play at your party. And, if you’re like me, you don’t have a household staff to take care of the trifling domestic matters. Luckily, keeping you from social disgrace is Party-Giving On Every Scale, published in 1880. This lovely volume contains the secrets to throwing a wildly successful Victorian garden party, which is sure to make you the envy of your friends and neighbors.


Garden Party is a popular and not expensive form of entertainment, as hospitality can be shown to a large circle of guests at a very modest cost. These afternoon garden parties take place from four to seven, but are only held as a matter of course from June to October. Garden parties are fashionable entertainments, and are frequently given on a very large scale. Royalty itself leads the way by giving afternoon parties to which from 800 to 1000 guests are invited, which is more or less followed by all ranks of society, including bishops in their palaces, officers in barracks, and members of yachting clubs on the lawns of the club houses, while in the suburbs of London these entertainments are very general, and in the country itself, garden parties are an institution in every county, and the young ladies are able to count their invitations to them by the score. The ladies of each county consider it incumbent upon them to entertain their neighbours at least once or twice during the summer months, and those who have extensive grounds find that a garden party, of all entertainments, entails the least trouble and expense.

At large garden parties, where the guests assemble by hundreds instead of by tens, there is generally one or two military bands in attendance; if given by a regiment, assaults of arms take place at intervals for the amusement of the company.

Garden Party – Philip Leslie Hale

Refreshments at these entertainments are invariably served indoors; but in the country refreshments at smaller garden parties are sometimes served in a tent, or on tables placed under the trees. At large garden parties tents of various sizes are erected on the lawn, and fitted up with seats in addition to the numerous chairs and garden seats that are indispensable, these are placed in rows in the vicinity of the band, and in all available shady spots.

At suburban or country garden parties rugs and Persian carpets are spread on the lawn under the trees, upon which seats are placed, so that should the grass be damp the guests need not fear taking cold.

The guests usually arrive from half-past four to five, and are received by their entertainers either on the lawn itself or in a tent, the names of the guests being announced by the butler or by the head-waiter.

A garden party at Buckingham Palace on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

Guests on their arrival usually inform their servants at what hour they purpose taking their departure, and expect their footmen to be in readiness at the time named to call up their carriages.

The usual run of garden parties given on a small scale averages from forty to one hundred guests, and in giving the details of the expenses consequent upon providing for a garden party, it is purposed to take the medium number, seventy-five; that in calculating the expenses for a larger or smaller number of guests it may be arrived at by adding to or deducting from this given number.

Lawn-tennis is now generally played at garden parties, so much so that garden parties are often designated lawn-tennis parties. In town and in the suburbs a military band is generally engaged to play from four to sevenin town a military band means the bands of the 1st or 2nd Life Guards, or that of the Royal Horse Guards Blue, and the bands of the Grenadier, Coldstream, or Scots Guards. These fine bands are a great attraction at a garden party, and a band belonging to either of these regiments can be obtained at the following barracks: Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, Wellington, and Chelsea Barracks, and at the Tower. The permission of the colonel of the regiment, or that of the “president of the band,” has to be solicited as a matter of courtesy or form, when the bandmaster is applied to for his band, subject to this permission being granted. The cost of the band is regulated by the strength of its numbers, the charge ranging from 10s to 15s. per man.

People who reside within twelve miles or so of London when they require a band to play at a garden party, usually apply to the nearest regiment quartered in their vicinity, such as Hampton Court or Hounslow, while those who reside in the neighbourhood of garrison towns, such as Woolwich, Chatham, Portsmouth, Dover, etc., have quite a choice of bands, and the cost of these averages 8s. to 10s. per man, and five guineas is the usual price to pay for twelve performers.

Those who reside at a considerable distance from a town where a regiment is quartered fall back upon the band of the county militia, yeomanry cavalry, or local volunteers; the cost of which bands average also from 8s. to 10s. per man, exclusive of railway fares and refreshments.

The usual refreshments provided for a band at a garden party consist of cold meat, ale, or sherry, or claret, as the bandmaster may prefer:—the cost of which would amount from 25s. to 30s.

Unless a garden party is given on the most economical scale, and it is desirable to spend next to nothing upon it, it is always advisable to engage a band, as the expense is small in comparison with the pleasure derived from it; but when a garden party is merely a small friendly gathering of from five-and-twenty to forty guests, the expense of a band is considered unnecessary, and its presence rather pretentious than not.

In providing garden seats and chairs for the accommodation of guests at a garden party, seats for one-third the number of those invited would be sufficient, in addition to the seats in the drawing-rooms, tea-room, and elsewhere.

Various descriptions of tents are usually erected at garden parties, umbrella tents, round wall tents, canopy tents, and small marquees. The cost of hire of these tents and marquees ranges from £1 10s. to £20, according to size and description of tent.

Bright-looking Persian rugs for spreading on lawns can be bought from 9s. 6dto 70s. each; the cheaper ones, although of coarser and commoner materials, answer the purpose equally well; although our transatlantic neighbours, with their usual disregard of expense, make a grand display of handsome Persian rugs at their fashionable garden parties; but this comfortable custom may be followed without going to any considerable expense in the matter of rugs, always bearing in mind that old and faded hearth-rugs and mats have not an inviting appearance, and that squares of carpet do not offer sufficient resistance unless of the thickest texture—velvet-pile, Turkey, or Axminster. The ubiquitous crimson drugget, although available at all other entertainments, putting as it does a bright face upon much that is dingy in the way of carpets in corridors, landings, cloak-rooms, etc., is at a discount at a garden party.

Tea and Tennis – Edward Frederick Brewtnall 

The refreshments are almost invariably served in the house itself, for several reasons—it entails far less trouble to serve refreshments in a tea-room, where all conveniences are at hand, than to arrange a buffet on the lawn under the trees. When it is desirable, however, that refreshments should not be served in the house from want of space, or some equally good reason, a large tent or marquee is hired for the purpose, the cost of the hire of which, say one 20 feet square, ranges from £and upwards; but, unless the guests number over one hundred, the expense of a tent for refreshments is seldom incurred, besides which a marquee is by no means a cool retreat on a sultry August afternoon, and a dining-room of a house, well ventilated and kept cool by the exclusion of hot air, is a far pleasanter resort for a large party of guests. Again, guests at a garden party find the change from the gardens to the house rather an agreeable one, and for this reason the reception rooms of a house or mansion are thrown open at a garden party, including drawing-rooms, library, billiard-room, or picture gallery if the house boasts of one.

The largest ground-floor room of a house, with the exception of the drawing-room, is usually converted into a tea-room, in which tea is served on dining tables in the centre of the room, or from a buffet at the upper end of the room, as at an afternoon dance or five o’clock tea. Trays with refreshments are carried on to the lawn by the men-servants in attendance during the afternoon, and handed to the guests,—one servant carrying a tray with cups of tea and coffee, another a tray with glasses of sherry or ices.

The refreshments indispensable at a garden party are tea and coffee, sherry and claret cup, cake, and biscuits. Fruit and ices are given in addition to these refreshments when a saving of expense is not of paramount importance to the giver of an entertainment.

For a party of seventy-five guests, 1 lb. of tea would be used, 1 1/2 lbs. of coffee. This quantity of tea and coffee would make 3 gallons of each, allowing a little over 5 ozs. of tea to the gallon, and 8 ozs. of coffee to the gallon. Tea should be made as required, in an urn holding 1 gallon, while the whole quantity of coffee is made in a 3 gallon coffee-kettle or copper; half this quantity should be served hot, and half as iced coffee in glass jugs, prepared with the proper quantity of milk and sugar, the coffee having been placed in ice some hours before required for serving.

Iced claret cup is also made as required, and 2 gallons is usually found sufficient for this number of guests, allowing 8 bottles of claret and 8 bottles of soda-water for the quantity of cup, in addition to about 2 lbs. of loaf sugar; the cost of this claret, at 18s. the dozen, would amount to 12s.; the price of soda-water, as has been before said, ranges from 1 1/2dto 3dper bottle, according to where it is purchased.

Badminton averages the same as does claret cup. Champagne cup and Moselle cup are but seldom given, but when provided, sweet champagne or sparkling Moselle, the former at 42s., and the latter at 36s. per dozen, would be good enough for this purpose. The same quantity of either of these wines would be required for this as for claret cup, viz.: 8 bottles of wine to 8 bottles of soda-water, but the quantity of cup drunk at a garden party depends upon the number of gentlemen present, and also whether they are players of lawn-tennis, in which case there would probably be a run upon iced cups; thus less than 2 gallons, or more than two gallons, would be drunk, according to circumstances. When matches of lawn-tennis are played at a garden party, a table is placed on the lawn, with iced drinks, sherry and seltzer-water, for the benefit of the gentlemen. Sherry and seltzer is rather a favourite drink with men in general, and 6 to 8 bottles of sherry would probably be drunk, or even less, according to the number of gentlemen present; thus, from 1 1/2 to 3 dozen seltzer-water would be required, but, as has been before said, it entirely depends upon how many gentlemen are present.

In some remote counties, for instance, the gentlemen at a garden party are represented by three or four young curates and two or three old gentlemen, while the ladies perhaps muster from forty to fifty, in which case very little wine is drunk. When garden parties are held in or near London, or in the home counties, or in or near cathedral cities, in or near university towns, and garrison towns, &c., the numbers are more equal, and generally one-third of the guests are gentlemen ; therefore, a hostess, when providing wine for a garden party, naturally takes this into consideration.

Susanna’s note: The author breaks out the amounts of ices and strawberries required and their respective costs. She refers to other sections in the book for the expenses of cakes, biscuits, and china rental. If you are writing or researching or merely curious about these topics, do peruse the sections of the chapter I have omitted.

Refreshments are served from 4 to 7—from the commencement to the termination of a garden-party. Two women-servants should pour out the tea and coffee; a third should serve either ices, or strawberries and cream, when given, while the guests help themselves to all other refreshments on the tables, whether to fruit, wine, or cup, etc. One man-servant should also be in attendance in the tea-room to offer any assistance in the way of opening soda-water or pouring out wine. An attendant is hardly required in the cloakroom, unless the party is a very large one, as ladies are not always shown into the cloak-room on their arrival at a garden-party, and many ladies prefer to leave their wraps and dust cloaks in their carriages.

The Subtle Art of Introductions in 1836

Today I’m excerpting from the chapter on introductions in The Laws Of Etiquette; Or, Short Rules And Reflections For Conduct In Society, by A Gentleman, published in 1836 in Philadelphia. I had created a draft of this post and then dashed off on an errand. I smiled when my car playlist appropriately started playing Meghan’s Trainor’s “No”, which is about a woman shutting down a rando guy when he approaches her.  

You may find some of the Gentleman’s advice to be hopelessly antiquated or mildly offensive (as usual, I’ve edited out the more egregious passages.) However, some of his counsel is still applicable today.

A gentleman should not be presented to a lady without her permission being previously asked and granted. This formality is not necessary between men alone; but, still, you should not present any one, even at his own request, to another, unless you are quite well assured that the acquaintance will be agreeable to the latter. You may decline upon the ground of not being sufficiently intimate yourself. A man does himself no service with another when he obliges him to know people whom he would rather avoid.

If you are walking down the street in company with another person, and stop to say something to one of your friends, or are joined by a friend who walks with you for a long time, do not commit the too common, but most flagrant error, of presenting such persons to one another. Never present morning visitors to one another, who happen to meet in your parlour without being acquainted. If you should be so presented, remember that the acquaintance afterwards goes for nothing; you have not the slightest right to expect that the other will ever speak to you. But observe, that in all such cases you should converse with the stranger as if you knew him perfectly well; you are to consider him an acquaintance for the nonce.

When two Americans, who “have not been introduced,” meet in some public place, as in a theatre, a stagecoach, or a steamboat, they will sit for an hour staring in one another’s faces, but without a word of conversation. This form of unpoliteness has been adopted from the English, and it is as little worthy of imitation as the form of their government. Good sense and convenience are the foundations of good breeding; and it is assuredly vastly more reasonable and more agreeable to enjoy a passing gratification when no sequent evil is to be apprehended than to be rendered uncomfortable by an ill-founded pride. It is, therefore, better to carry on an easy and civil conversation. A snuff-box, or some polite accommodation rendered, may serve for an opening. Talk only about generalities, – the play, the roads, the weather. Avoid speaking of persons or politics, for, if the individual is of the opposite party to yourself, you will be engaged in a controversy: if he holds the same opinions, you will be overwhelmed with a flood of vulgar intelligence, which may soil your mind. Be reservedly civil while the colloquy lasts, and let the acquaintance cease with the occasion.

If you see a lady whom you do not know, unattended, and wanting the assistance of a man, offer your services to her immediately. Do it with great courtesy, taking off your hat and begging the honour of assisting her. This precept, although universally observed in France, is constantly violated in England and America by the demi-bred, perhaps by all but the thorough-bred. The “mob of gentlemen” in this country seem to act in these cases as if a gentleman ipso facto ceased to be a MAN, and as if the form of presentation was established to prevent intercourse and not to increase it. Charles Lamb’s phrase, “a human gentleman,” was, after all, no great tautology.

Check it out! This book was owned by William Smith in 1837.