Friday, December 31, 2010


We found this lovely book at an estate sale this fall. Decorum: A practical treatise on etiquette and dress is digitized and available through Harvard. The book includes 1877 and 1879 dates of publication.

It is full of gems - advice on social interactions of all kinds, dress, letter writing, courtship and marriage, and attire in the late 1800's.

On Wall Flowers at Balls:
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 it wholly unperceived, in order not to wound the self-esteem of the unfortunate ladies.

On Love at First Sight:
No doubt these is such a thing as love at first sight, but love alone is a very uncertain foundation upon which to base marriage. There should be through acquaintanceship and a certain knowledge of harmony of tastes and temperaments before matrimony is ventured upon.

On Trifling with a Man's Feelings:
Some young ladies pride themselves upon the conquests which they make and would not scruple to sacrifice the happiness of an estimable person to their reprehensible vanity. Let this be far from you. If you see clearly that you have become an object of especial regard to a gentleman, and do not wish to encourage his addresses, treat him honorably and humanely, as you hope to be used with generosity by the person who may engage your own heart.

On Breaking an Engagement:
...Still breaking an engagement is always a serious and distressing thing, and ought not to be contemplated without absolute and just reasons...It is generally best to break an engagement by letter. By this means one can express himself or herself more clearly, and give the true reasons for his or her course much better than in a personal interview. The letter breaking the engagement should be accompanied by everything in the way of portraits, letters or gifts which have been received during the engagement.

What is the ruling on a text message break up?

This is such a fun look at the view of etiquette and dress for "the best American society" in the 1800's.

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