Friday, October 12, 2018

Old West Etiquette, Part 1

The Victorian era (1837-1901) was a time when manners were everything. The lowest cowboy could be a gentleman, and the richest tycoon could be considered churlish. Your character would probably been taught proper etiquette, or at least read some of the “rules” in a magazine or newspaper. Here are some of the basics:

Basic rules for everyone:
·     stand up when being introduced, or when an elderly person or dignitary enters the room
·     remember that silence is golden
·     speak gently and graciously (no matter your true feelings); assume the best in any situation; practice the art of conversation
·     stand and sit properly; good posture is essential
·     be in good taste
·     make others feel welcome in your presence; be gentle and patient

·     boast or brag
·     speak or act in anger
·     remove your gloves when making a formal visit
·     be nosy or overly inquisitive; do not meddle or tell tales
·     stare around the room when visiting, or walk about examining the furnishings unless invited to do so
·     pay attention to someone just because of their wealth or status in society
·     turn your back on someone - when you must remove yourself from their presence, ask to be excused

Basic rules for gentlemen:

·     wear gloves on the street, in church, or in other formal occasions, except when eating or drinking - gray or darker colors for day and white or cream colored for evening
·     remove your hat when entering a building
·     lift your hat fully to a lady in public; a greeting between gentlemen may be an inclination of the head, a gesture of the hand, or a mere touching of the hat
·     stand up when a lady, elderly person, or dignitary enters a room, comes within your presence, or stands
·     offer a lady your seat if no others are available, and assist with her chair when she sits down or stands, especially when at a table or when chairs are small or light
·     offer your arm to a lady with whom you are acquainted when entering or exiting a building or a room, and whenever walking on uneven ground
·     open doors for a lady and offer to help her with hat, cloak, shawl, packages, refreshments, etc
·     turn and walk with a lady if she wishes to speak in public, and leave with a bow and lift of the hat when all has been said

·     use tobacco in any form when ladies are present
·     curse or discuss impolite subjects when ladies are present
·     call someone by their first name in public
·     acknowledge a lady in public unless she acknowledges you first
·     remove your gloves when making a formal call
·     use too much perfume or smoke before entering a lady's presence
·     scratch your head, pick your teeth, clean your nails, or worse of all, pick your nose in company; all these things are disgusting. Spit as little as possible and never upon the floor

'When walking, one must advance or thrust forward the chest or sternum, by drawing back the tops of the shoulders, taking care to keep them down; and at the same time holding the arms a little forward, so that the hands may be in a line with the foreside of the thighs. The head is to be held back in a becoming manner, but without stiffness; and the chin kept down, but not so as to give the figure an air of constraint. It is a great thing to be able to walk like a gentleman--that is, to get rid of that awkward, lounging, swinging gate of a clown and stop before you reach the affected and flippant step of the dandy. In short, nothing but being a gentleman can give you the air and step of one.'

Basic rules for a lady:

·     wear gloves on the street, in church, or in other formal occasions, except when eating or drinking
·     graciously accept gentlemanly offers of assistance
·     stand up when an elderly person or dignitary enters a room, comes within your presence, or stands

·     speak in a loud, coarse voice
·     call someone by their first name in public
·     lift your skirts higher than absolutely necessary to go up stairs
·     sit with your legs crossed except at the ankles if necessary for comfort
·     lift your skirts up onto a seat, stool, or chair - wait for assistance when sitting down at a table on or a chair, especially if it is small or light
·     participate in any games which would result in you being kissed or handled in any way - if a hand approaches a bit of jewelry, step back and unpin it for inspection

A true lady will go quietly and unobtrusively about her business when on the street, never seeking to attract the attention of the opposite sex, at the same time recognizing acquaintances with a courteous bow, and friends with pleasant words of greeting.

The Essential Handbook of VictorianEtiquette (Thomas Hill, 1994)
Manners & Morals of Victorian America(Wayne Erbson, 2009)

J.E.S. Hays


  1. I remember reading some of these in the research I've done. I enjoy them everytime they appear. Thank you. Doris

  2. Many of these etiquette rules would be wonderful to resurrect for today's society.