Walk Like A Victorian

When I go for a walk, I typically wear workout clothes, which only match if I’ve done the laundry recently. I’m by myself, listening to music on my earbuds, and waving at passing dogs (and, sometimes, people.) It’s a good thing that I don’t live in Victorian England, because according to Lady Constance Howard in her 1885 volume Etiquette: What To Do, and How To Do It, I would scandalize polite society with my blatantly offensive behavior. Let’s have Lady Constance Howard explain the egregious err of my modern ways.

With regard to walking in London, a young lady would not walk out by herself ; she would be accompanied by her maid ; until she was old enough to be presented, by her governess, after she was presented, by her mother, father, brother, or some relation.

This rule should always be enforced, but now-a-days young ladies are often seen walking by themselves, but it does not look well ; it makes them liable to accusations of fastness, and etiquette requires that they should not be permitted so to break its established laws. In the country it is a different thing. In a park, village, town, suburban district, and seaside resort, a young girl would, with perfect propriety, and without any breach of etiquette, walk about alone, unattended and unaccompanied, and so go from one house to another of the friends and relations who might chance to reside in close proximity to their houses.

The rules before mentioned only apply to walking in London and in places of general assembly, public streets, and promenades at fashionable watering-places like Folkestone and Brighton, and at continental seaside towns.

Married ladies, when they are young and good looking, very often secure the companionship of a younger sister, or some lady who is a relation or friend, to walk with them, not from a sense of its being necessary that they should have someone with them, or from a feeling of propriety, but because to walk in London or a town alone is always a shy thing to do. Any lady doing so is more or less conspicuous; she is more or less noticed, and when she is well dressed and decidedly handsome and attractive in appearance, it would not always be an agreeable thing to do, whereas two ladies walking together would experience less shyness and attract less attention from those who see them.

Still, young married ladies often walk long distances alone, and if they are not shy and do not mind being stared at (those who do are, alas ! the exception), there is no reason why they should not walk alone, if it pleases them: it is quite correct etiquette that they should do so.

Married ladies, whether young or middle-aged, can at all times walk out alone and unattended; but when going to the Park or a public promenade at a fashionable seaside resort, they would nearly always ask another lady to walk with them. It does not look well to see a lady walk down Rotten Row in the height of the London season, whether in the morning or afternoon, alone.

Walking Dress ca. 1889. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of the Princess Viggo in accordance with the wishes of the Misses Hewitt, 1931
Walking Dress ca. 1889. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of the Princess Viggo in accordance with the wishes of the Misses Hewitt, 1931. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/159303

Generally, during the season, ladies prefer the Park to the more crowded thoroughfares, such as Bond Street, Piccadilly, St James’ Street, etc. They would avoid them as much as they could, and if obliged to walk down them, would always do so accompanied by someone, either lady or gentleman.

Twelve to two o’clock are the usual hours for walking in London, especially in the summer. In the winter two-thirty to four-thirty-three to six in the summer. Both in summer and winter those who possess carriages generally drive in the afternoon, and devote the morning to walking.

The hours named are the fashionable and usual hours for walking at seaside towns and English watering-places.

If two ladies of different rank and but slightly acquainted were to meet in the Park or street, the lady of highest rank would, of course, bow first. If their rank were equal, it would not matter in the least which bowed first, so long as they acknowledged each other’s presence by this small act of courtesy.

To omit to bow would be a sign of ill-breeding, and a want of the knowledge of what is required by the laws of etiquette, that would reflect very much upon the lady neglecting this social duty.

Ladies should be careful to bow graciously. A little curt nod, a jerk of the head, a quick movement of the head, or the “inane smile’ which is all many people now vouchsafe to their acquaintances and friends by way of recognition when they meet them walking, driving, or riding, are all in the worst of possible taste.

Many ladies give an imperceptible nod to the gentlemen of their acquaintance, a decided proof of bad manners.

A bow should be a decided and graceful bend of the neck and head, indicating that it is a pleasure to the person making the bow to acknowledge her friends by so doing.

If I may be humbly permitted to say so, let people watch Her Majesty when she acknowledges the loyal salutations of her people, and see what a bow should be. It is at once dignified and most gracious, and those on whom it is bestowed feel both pleasure and a keen sense of the honour that has been accorded to them.

It is the same with all our Royal Family, and people in general would do well to profit by the example set to them.

The degree of empressement exhibited by a gentleman when he meets a lady whom he knows, would be entirely regulated by the fact of their acquaintance being a slight one or their being very old friends. In the latter case, he would take his hat quite off; in the former, he would only slightly raise it off his head, and his bow should be of the most ceremonious and respectful description, their acquaintanceship not warranting more cordiality on the part of the gentleman.

If he bowed in any other way than these two, he would either seem to be too familiar, or to look as if he wished to avoid the lady altogether, only rendering her the least courtesy possible under the circumstances.

It is a mistake to be too gushing and empressé in manner; it is equally a mistake to snub people unmercifully: no gentleman or lady would ever be guilty of either.

A gentleman cannot, of course, bow to a lady with whom he is unacquainted, nor do gentlemen raise their hats to each other when they meet in the Park or street; they would say, ‘How are you, B.?’ or nod, or say ‘Glad to see you, Charley,’ and would then pass on.

Woman with Hat and Gloves
https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2006688039/

The only occasion on which a gentleman would raise his hat to another gentleman would be, if two gentlemen met in the Park or street who knew each other, and one was walking with ladies or a lady with whom the other gentleman was unacquainted; he would raise his hat to his friend, instead of speaking to him or nodding.

This would be simply done as a mark of civility and respect to the ladies or lady with whom his friend was walking ; it would not be looked upon as a bow to the ladies or lady, as the gentleman had not been introduced to them; nor would it constitute an acquaintanceship between them ; nor could the gentleman meeting the same ladies or lady in future bow to them, or show that he had seen them before, unless he was first of all introduced to them by some mutual friend, or by the friend with whom he had seen them walking.

In the same way, no lady could, under any circumstances, bow to a lady or gentleman, without a previous introduction to them, even if she had known them by sight for years,-knew their names and all about them, from constantly seeing them with friends of her own, and meeting them at different balls and réunions in society.

Etiquette permits no bows to be exchanged, except between those who have already been presented to each other.

On the Continent, the rule of bowing is the exact contrary to that which is observed in England,—that is to say, the gentleman bows first instead of the lady.

In England, when bowing to friends or acquaintances, it is a lady’s privilege to bow first.

The gentleman would then take off his hat to the lady who had given him this sign of recognition; he would, as a general rule, not bow until the lady had bowed to him ; on most occasions both would bow at the same moment, as the lady would be sure beforehand that the gentleman would return her courteous bow, or she would not take the initiative and bow to him.

Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. William E. S. Griswold, 1941
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. William E. S. Griswold, 1941. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/159220

In the case of a lady meeting a gentleman with whom she is acquainted, walking with a gentleman who was a stranger to her, she would at once bow to the gentleman who had been introduced to her ; she would do the same (except under particular circumstances) were he walking with a lady whose acquaintance she had not made.

Many husbands and wives, when taking a ramble together, walk arm-in-arm. It is a good old fashion, and should always be observed.

The same applies in the case of a mother and son, father and daughter, daughter or son-in-law with their mother or father-in-law, and in all cases where the lady is lame, or not very young, it is a proof of civility that every lady has a right to expect from the gentleman walking with her, more especially at dangerous crossings in London, which are a source of unfeigned terror to most ladies.

It is not necessary for a lady when walking with a gentleman to introduce any other gentleman she may meet, to him, unless she has a special reason for doing so, or thinks they both wish for the introduction.

If she were walking with her husband or father, she would of course do so, but in the case of her brother, nephew, cousin, or the husband of any lady in whose house she was staying, it would be unnecessary and not expected, except under the circumstances before mentioned.

The rule with regard to introductions between a guest and her hostess, with regard to the ladies they meet when out walking, would be that the guest would present the friends or relations she met during the walk to her hostess, which civility the hostess would also show her, if they stopped and had a conversation sufficiently prolonged to admit of such an introduction being effected.

If the friend of either lady was antagonistic to the other, no introductions would be made, and after the hostess and her guest had continued their walk, matters would be duly explained and discussed, and the true reasons given for the course pursued.

Ladies would not exclude any ladies from the conversation; it would be very rude to do so, and would make the lady so treated very uncomfortable she would feel snubbed and ignored.

If two ladies meet out walking, and take a walk together, and other ladies join them in the course of their walk, no introductions, except with special reasons, or expressed wishes that such should be the case, would be made by any of them to any of the others.

At fashionable watering-places, sea-side resorts, on the Continent, etc., gentlemen meeting ladies with whom they are acquainted, walk about with them for some time, get them a chair if there happens to be a band playing, and show them any courtesy in their power, while the ladies, on their part, introduce the gentlemen to those ladies or gentlemen belonging to their party, whose acquaintance they have reason to believe will be pleasant and acceptable to them.

Two ladies walking together would not walk arm-in-arm-it would be very vulgar to do so; also, no lady should put on her gloves while walking in the street, she should put them on before she leaves the house.

Ladies cannot be too particular when out walking; an exaggerated style of dress, gaudy colours, much jewellery, painted faces, a walk that makes people turn round and stare, in a word, anything that attracts attention in the public streets, more especially from gentlemen, is in the worst possible taste; no real lady would ever commit such a breach of recognised etiquette and the fitness of things; no true lady would court the stares and exclamations her appearance so dressed would attract; to be the object of such so-called admiration, would be a direct insult to the title of honour she ought to hold,—that of being ‘a lady !’

Black dresses, quietly made, and simply trimmed ‘gown’ become a lady when out walking, in a way befitting her claim to the name.

Walking Dress ca. 1885. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. C. M. Andrews, 1951
Walking Dress ca. 1885. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. C. M. Andrews, 1951. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/159339

Let her dress herself with any other view except that of receiving respect from all passers-by, and she is no longer what she wishes the world to believe her to be-a true lady.

Gentlemen when out walking together generally walk ‘bras dessus-bras dessous. It is more sociable altogether to do so.

No gentleman swings his stick or umbrella about when walking, as he would be in danger of bestowing a gratuitous and unexpected blow on a passer-by, who might make him rue his carelessness and rudeness.

If a gentleman passes a lady when he is walking, and the pavement is crowded, so that one or other of them must step into the road to make room for the other to pass, the gentleman would not permit the lady to be the one to do this; he should walk along the road until the crowd lessened.

He would pursue this course whether he were acquainted with the lady or not; to do otherwise would exhibit a great want of good manners, a total absence of knowledge as to what is due to a lady. When a lady and gentleman are walking together, the lady would take the gentleman’s left arm, otherwise, if he met any lady of his acquaintance, he would not be able to take off his hat to her.

If a gentleman is escorting his two sisters out walking, they would walk on either side of him. Neither of them (unless one was not strong) would take his arm; and on no account would they each take an arm, and so walk in the Park or street.

A lady walking with a gentleman, whether taking his arm or not, would usually walk on his left hand.

A muff and umbrella in winter, and a parasol in summer, are the only articles usually carried by ladies when out walking ; but let me assure them that there will be no loss of dignity on their part, should it fall to their lot to carry a brown paper parcel through the streets of London.

People whose opinion is worth having will admire them for their absence of false pride. A lady would not, perhaps, do it from choice, but if the parcel has to be carried, she can do it with impunity.

Hyde Park - Claude Monet
Hyde Park – Claude Monet

4 Replies to “Walk Like A Victorian”

  1. I am so glad the the horror of the “inane smile” has continued through the ages. And the idea that if one must carry a brown paper parcel, one can do it with impunity.

  2. Should we meet on a fashionable street and smile inanely (maybe bow or something), please offer me a sip from whatever is in that brown paper parcel you’re carrying about…

  3. A good deal of rehearsal must have been necessary before a young lady or gentleman felt sufficiently c8nfident to leave the house!

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