I have several excerpts about ball etiquette on this blog. But given how many balls I must attend during my hectic social season, I like to keep brushed up on proper deportment. (Full disclosure, I’ve attended zero balls, and I don’t have a hectic social season … or any social season for that matter) Therefore, I’m piqued by Etiquette for Ladies: With Hints on the Preservation, Improvement, and Display of Female Beauty because it was published in 1838 in Philadelphia, which makes it a relatively early “how-to” etiquette book. If you enjoy historical romances, you probably won’t find any new information here. However, it’s still an amusing, brief read.
Please note, in the past, I’ve tried to post images that reflect the timeframe and location of what I’m excerpting. I’m no longer going to do that because, simply, it’s not fun for me. This is my Floating World, which is about pleasure, imagination, and entertainment, and there are so many wonderful images that I want to share. So going forward, I’m posting images that reflect the spirit of the text.
alls, Concerts, and Evening Parties
These amusements presuppose a fortune and good ton; the practice of society, therefore, and consequently a forgetfulness of the precepts of politeness in respect to them, would be truly preposterous.
When you wish to give a dance, you send out invitations a week beforehand, that the ladies may have time to prepare articles for their toilet.
If it is to be a simple evening party, in which we may wear a summer walking-dress, the mistress of the house gives verbal invitations, and does not omit to apprise her friends of this circumstance, or they might appear in unsuitable dresses. If, on the contrary, the soirée is to be in reality a ball, the invitations are written, or what is better, printed, and expressed in the third person.
A room appropriated for the purpose, and furnished with cloak-pins to hang up the shawls and other dresses of the ladies, is almost indispensable. Domestics should be there also, to aid them in taking off and putting on their outside garments.
We are not obliged to go exactly at the appointed hour; it is even fashionable to go an hour later. Married ladies are accompanied by their husbands; unmarried ones, by their mother, or by a chaperon. These last ladies place themselves behind the dancers; the master of the house then goes before one and another, procures seats for them, and mingles again among the gentlemen who are standing, and who form groups or walk about the room.
A lady cannot refuse the invitation of a gentleman to dance, unless she has already accepted that of another, for she would be guilty of an in civility which might occasion trouble; she would, moreover, seem to show contempt for him whom she refused, and would expose herself to receive in secret an ill compliment from the mistress of the house.
Married or young ladies, cannot leave a ballroom, or any other party, alone. The former should be accompanied by one or two other married ladies, and the latter by their mother, or by a lady to represent her.
Ladies should avoid talking too much; it will occasion remarks. It has also a bad appearance to whisper continually in the ear of your partner.
The master of the house should see that all the ladies dance; he should take notice particularly of those who seem to serve as drapery to the walls of the ball-room, (or wall-flowers, as the familiar expression is,) and should see that they are invited to dance. But he must do this wholly unperceived, in order not to wound the self-esteem of the unfortunate ladies.
Gentlemen whom the master of the house requests to dance with these ladies, should be ready to accede to his wish, and even appear pleased at dancing with a person thus recommended to their notice.
Ladies who dance much, should be very careful not to boast before those who dance but little or not at all, of the great number of dances for which they are engaged in advance. They should also, without being perceived, recommend to these less fortunate ladies, gentlemen of their acquaintance.
In giving the hand for ladies’ chain or any other figures, those dancing should wear a smile, and accompany it with a polite inclination of the head, in the manner of a salutation. At the end of the dance, the gentleman reconducts the lady to her place, bows and thanks her for the honour which she has conferred. She also bows in silence, smiling with a gracious air.
In these assemblies, we should conduct ourselves with reserve and politeness towards all present, although they may be unknown to us.
Persons who have no ear for music, that is to say, a false one, ought to refrain from dancing. Never hazard taking part in a quadrille, unless you know how to dance tolerably; for if you are a novice, or but little skilled, you would bring disorder into the midst of pleasure. Being once engaged to take part in a dance, if the figures are not familiar, be careful not to advance first. You can in this way govern your steps by those who go before you. Beware, also, of taking your place in a set of dancers more skillful than yourself. When an unpractised dancer makes a mistake, we may apprize him of his error; but it would be very impolite to have the air of giving him a lesson.
Dance with grace and modesty, neither affect to make a parade of your knowledge; refrain from great leaps and ridiculous jumps, which would attract the attention of all towards you.
In a private ball or party, it is proper to show still more reserve, and not manifest more preference for one gentleman than another; you should dance with all who ask properly.
In public balls, a gentleman offers his partner refreshments, but which she very seldom accepts, unless she is well acquainted with him. But in private parties, the persons who receive the company, send round cake and other refreshments, of which every one helps themselves. Near the end of the evening, in a well regulated ball, it is customary to have a supper; but in a soirée, without great preparation, we may dispense with a supper; refreshments are, however, necessary; and not to have them would be the greatest impoliteness.
We should retire incognito, in order not to disturb the master and mistress of the house; and we should make them, during the week, a visit of thanks, at which we may converse of the pleasure of the ball, and the good selection of the company.
The proprieties in deportment, which concerts require, are little different from those which are recognised in every other assembly, or in public exhibitions, for concerts partake of the one and the other, according as they are public or private. In private concerts, the ladies occupy the front seats, and the gentlemen are generally in groups behind, or at the side of them. We should observe the most profound silence, and refrain from beating time, humming the airs, applauding, or making ridiculous gestures of admiration. It often happens that a dancing soirée succeeds a concert, and billets of invitation, distributed two or three days beforehand, should give notice of it to the persons invited.
Be rarely seen at public places.
Never appear at balls whilst in mourning.
If you give a ball, dance in it rarely.
4 Replies to “Don’t Let Your Ball Guests Be Wallflowers Or Drapery!”
I love the images you chose! So very evocative. And I feel such sympathy for the gentleman of the house, tasked to dance with all the “wallflowers” without appearing to be doing this very thing, even though everyone knew this was exactly what he was doing.
Our host is super suave. They would never be suspected 🙂
Interesting. The dances changed over time but the etiquette seems to have remained the same for some time.
Interesting suggestions for further reading,