Victorian Society Rules

victorian dress

1823 ball gown with lovely overskirt

For today’s post we take a peek into the intriguing world of Victorian society rules. As we mentioned in our earlier post about vintage board games, conversation games were incredibly popular during the Victorian era as there were many restrictions on female/male interactions. There were many resourceful ways women and men worked around these rules and Ann Walter at Anntie M’s Attic shows us some of her favorites.

Victorian Society Rules

These modes of communication were developed for both close encounters as well as more public environments. At a fancy dress party if a gentleman showed interest in a lady, she could easily respond with her fan. A fast fan meant “I’m independent” and a slow paced fan meant “I’m engaged.” Beyond the pace of the fanning, an open and shut fan told him to lean in for a kiss, a shut fan meant she showed no interest in reciprocating his feelings, and a fan that was swinging to and fro meant she wanted him to walk her home.

victorian society rules

Victorian parasol

During dinner men and women could express things without saying a word. Playing with your fork meant you wanted to talk, holding your knife meant “when can I see you?”, a fork on the edge of the cup playfully asked “are you engaged tonight?”, and a fork draped over the knife meant “meet me.” Beyond dinner ware, a lot could be said with the eyes. (But be aware that you must be alert to not misread the signals!) Winking the right eye meant “I love you,” but the left was quite the opposite, letting the other person know “I hate you.” Blinking your right eye twice let someone know you were already spoken for and married, dropping your eye lids asked “may I kiss you?”, and to respond yes all you needed to do was raise your eyes!

If a lady was on a stroll and fancied a man she noticed, she would engage a very helpful accessory: a parasol elevated in the left hand told potential suitors, “let’s get acquainted!” Handkerchiefs proved to be another useful addition to a lady’s wardrobe. A handkerchief through the hand let a gentleman know you had the desire to converse and holding the corners asked the question “is it agreeable?” To respond yes, hold the handkerchief with three fingers, to say no just hold with two.

parlor chairs

Parlor Chairs

During this time people had exact rules about seating as well, for example a gentleman would never offer a young lady his seat. It was considered indecent since it would still be warm from his body temperature. The invention of the parlor chair helped ease any kind of seating arrangement woes our Victorian predecessors may have faced.

As we consider all the rules and restrictions we face today, hardly any delve into courtship. So tell us, what do you think of these non-verbal communications? Are there any other vintage traditions you wish would carry over to our modern time?

Cause A Frockus would like to thank our tremendous resources: Ann Walter at Anntie M’s Attic and the wonderful people who post their images without restriction.

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