Vintage Rules for Being a Lady
Before there were women, there were ladies. Before there were choices, there were rules.
It worked then, and it still works. The rules for being a lady are as much applicable today as they were decades ago. That's not to say, there is not an appeal to the crass biker chicks making their daily appearance on social media GIFs. But there is something grand and sexy about the sophisticated lady that never goes out of style. Maybe it is more fun thinking about taking your clothing off, when you are actually wearing clothing to begin with. Problem is, in a "me" generation obsessed with instant gratification, no one wants to take the time to read the rules. So read the vintage rules for being a lady and get current with what real men are into.
First impressions are apt to be permanent; it is therefore of importance that they should be favorable. The dress of an individual is that circumstance from which you first form your opinion of him.
What style is to our thoughts, dress is to our persons. Numbers have owed their elevation to their attention to dress. Place, fortune, marriage have all been lost by neglecting it.
Some ladies perhaps imagining that they are deficient in personal charms—and we are willing to believe that there are such, although the Chesterfieldian School of Philosophers would ridicule the idea—endeavor to make their clothes the spell of their attraction. With this end in view, they labor by lavish expenditure to supply in expensive adornment what is lacking in beauty of form or feature. Unfortunately for their success, elegant dressing does not depend upon expense. A lady might wear the costliest silks that Italy could produce, adorn herself with laces from Brussels which years of patient toil are required to fabricate; she might carry the jewels of an Eastern princess around her neck and upon her wrists and fingers, yet still, in appearance, be essentially vulgar. These were as nothing without grace, without adaptation, without a harmonious blending of colors, without the exercise of discrimination and good sense.
Neglect of Dress
There are occasionally to be found among both sexes, persons who neglect their dress through a ridiculous affectation of singularity, and who take pride in being thought utterly indifferent to their personal appearance. Millionaires are very apt to manifest this characteristic, but with them it generally arises through a miserly penuriousness of disposition; their imitators, however, are even more deficient than they in common sense.
Thinking about Your Dress
Never appear to be thinking about your dress, but wear the richest clothes and the plainest with equal simplicity. Nothing so destroys a good manner than thinking of what we have on. Never keep a morning visitor waiting while you change your dress. You ought always to be fit to be seen; and it is better to present yourself in your ordinary attire than to be guilty of the ill-breeding of keeping your acquaintance waiting while you make an elaborate toilette.
Business Woman’s Dress
There are many women who are engaged in business of some sort; thus it seems necessary that they should have a distinct dress suited to their special wants. This dress need not be so peculiar as to mark them for objects of observation, but still it should differ from the ordinary walking-costume. Its material as a rule, should be more serviceable, better fitted to endure the vicissitudes of weather, and of plain colors, such as browns or grays.
It is every woman's duty to make herself as beautiful as possible; and no less the duty of every man to make himself pleasing in appearance. The duty of looking well is one we owe not only to ourselves, but to others as well. We owe it to ourselves because others estimate us very naturally and very properly by our outward appearance; and we owe it to others because we have no right to put our friends to the blush by our untidiness.
If a gentleman asks a lady to accompany him to the opera or a concert, she has no right to turn that expected pleasure into a pain and mortification by presenting herself with tumbled hair, ill-chosen dress, badly-fitting gloves, and an atmosphere of cheap and offensive perfumes. So, also, if the gentleman comes to fulfill his appointment with tumbled clothes, shaggy hair and beard, soiled linen, and an odor of stale tobacco, she may well consider such an appearance an insult.
With Whom to Associate
The conversation of those women who are not the most lavishly supplied with personal beauty, will be of the most advantage to the young aspirant. Such persons have cultivated their manners and conversation more than those who can rely upon their natural endowments. The absence of pride and pretension has improved their good nature and their affability. They are not too much occupied in contemplating their own charms, to be indisposed to indulge in gentle criticism on others.
Women observe all the delicacies of propriety in manners, and all the shades of impropriety, much better than men; not only because they attend to them earlier and longer, but because their perceptions are more refined than those of the other sex, who are habitually employed about greater things. Women divine, rather than arrive at proper conclusions.
The bow is the proper mode of salutation to exchange between acquaintances in public, and, in certain circumstances, in private. The bow should never be a mere nod. A gentleman should raise his hat completely from his head and slightly incline the whole body. Ladies should recognize their gentlemen friends with a bow or graceful inclination. It is their place to bow first, although among intimate acquaintances the recognition may be simultneous.
A well-bred man always removes his cigar from his lips whenever he bows to a lady.
The most familiar and affectionate form of salutation is the kiss. It need scarcely be said that this is only proper on special occasions and between special parties.
The kiss of mere respect—almost obsolete in this country—is made on the hand. This custom is retained in Germany and among gentlemen of the most courtly manners in England.
The kiss of friendship and relationship is on the cheeks and forehead. As a general rule, this act of affection is excluded from public eyes—in the case of parents and children unnecessarily so; for there is no more pleasing and touching sight than to see a young man kiss his mother, or a young woman her father, upon meeting or parting.
Custom seems to give a kind of sanction to women kissing each other in public: but there is, nevertheless, a touch of vulgarity about it, and a lady of really delicate perceptions will avoid it.
Conversing with Ladies
If you are a gentleman, never lower the intellectual standard of your conversation in addressing ladies. Pay them the compliment of seeming to consider them capable of an equal understanding with gentlemen. You will, no doubt, be somewhat surprised to find in how many cases the supposition will be grounded on fact, and in the few instances where it is not, the ladies will be pleased rather than offended at the delicate compliment you pay them. When you “come down” to commonplace or smalltalk with an intelligent lady, one of two things is the consequence, she either recognizes the condescension and despises you, or else she accepts it as the highest intellectual effort of which you are capable, and rates you accordingly.
A Lady Calling on a Gentleman
A lady never calls on a gentleman, unless professionally or officially. It is not only ill-bred, but positively improper to do so. At the same time, there is a certain privilege in age, which makes it possible for an older bachelor like myself to receive a visit from any married lady whom I know very intimately, but such a call would certainly not be one of ceremony, and always presupposes a desire to consult me on some point or other. I should be guilty of shameful treachery, however, if I told anyone that I had received such a visit, while I should certainly expect that my fair caller would let her husband know of it.
Giving a Ball
If you cannot afford to give a ball in good style, you had better not attempt it at all. Having made up your mind to give a ball and to do justice to the occasion, and having settled upon the time, the next thing is to decide whom and how many to invite. The more guests you have the more brilliant, and the fewer you have the more enjoyable, will the occasion be. Any number over a hundred guests constitutes a “large ball.” Under fifty is merely a “dance.”
General Rules for a Ball-room
A lady will not cross a ball-room unattended.
A gentleman will not take a vacant seat next to a lady who is a stranger to him. If she is an acquaintance, he may do so with her permission.
In dancing quadrilles do not make an attempt to take steps. A quiet walk is all that is required.
When a gentleman escorts a lady home from a ball, she should not invite him to enter the house; and even if she does so, he should by all means decline the invitation. He should call upon her during the next day or evening.
Carriage of a Lady in Public
A lady walks quietly through the streets, seeing and hearing nothing that she ought not to see and hear, recognizing acquaintances with a courteous bow and friends with words of greeting. She is always unobtrusive. She never talks loudly or laughs boisterously, or does anything to attract the attention of passersby. She simply goes about her business in her own quiet, lady-like way, and by her preoccupation is secure from all the annoyance to which a person of less perfect breeding might be subjected.
Stopping a Lady on the Street
If you have anything to say to a lady whom you may happen to meet in the street, however intimate you may be, do not stop her, but turn round and walk in company; you can take leave at the end of the street.
Social Intercourse while Traveling
Social intercourse while traveling is one of its main attractions. Even ladies who run greater risks in forming steamboat acquaintances than the men, are allowed the greatest privilege in that respect. It might not be exactly correct for a lady to make a speaking acquaintance of a gentleman; but she may address or question him for the time being without impropriety.
Courtship and Marriage
In point of fact, women certainly constitute the most general consideration in life; in point of necessity, perhaps the most important one. In every age and country, they occupy vastly the larger portion of men's thoughts. The class of common men dedicate to them their lives; and to ambition, business, or amusement, they are but the truants of an hour. The boy dreams of them as the ministers of a delight, dim but delicious, inexplicable but immense; the man thinks of them as the authors of a pleasure, placid yet poignant; the old turn toward them as the sources of that comfort which is the only paradise of old age. To gain the favor of a race, whose attractions are so universal and so various, must be admitted to be an art that is worth some attention.
Conduct of a Gentleman toward Ladies
A gentleman whose thoughts are not upon marriage should not pay too exclusive attentions to any one lady. He may call upon all and extend invitations to any or all to attend public places of amusement with him, or may act as their escort on occasions, and no one of the many has any right to feel herself injured. But as soon as he neglects others to devote himself to a single lady he gives that lady reason to suppose he is particularly attracted to her, and there is danger of her feelings becoming engaged.
Conduct of a Lady toward Gentlemen
Neither should a young lady allow marked attentions from any one to whom she is not especially attracted, for several reasons: one, that she may not do an injury to the gentleman in seeming to give his suit encouragement; another, that she may not harm herself in keeping aloof from her those whom she might like better, but who will not approach her under the mistaken idea that her feelings are already interested. A young lady will on no account encourage the address of one whom she perceives to be seriously interested in her unless she feels it possible that in time she may be able to return his affections. The prerogative of proposing lies with the man, but the prerogative of refusing lies with the woman; and this prerogative a lady of tact and kind heart can and will exercise before her suitor is brought to the humiliation of a direct of her. She may let him see that she receives with equal favor attentions from others, and she may check in a kind but firm manner his too frequent visits. She should try, while discouraging him as a lover, to still retain him as a friend.
It is very injudicious, not to say presumptuous for a gentleman to make a proposal to a young lady on a brief acquaintance. He may be perfectly satisfied as to her merits, but how can he imagine himself so attractive as to suppose her equally satisfied on her part? A lady who would accept a gentleman at first sight can hardly possess the discretion needed to make her a good wife. Therefore, impatient and impassioned young man, nurse your ardor for a while unless you wish to ensure for yourself disappointment.
Duty of a Rejected Suitor
The duty of a rejected suitor is quite clear. Etiquette demands that he shall accept the lady's decision as final and retire from the field. He has no right to demand the reason of her refusal.
To persist in urging his suit or to follow up the lady with marked attentions would be in the worst possible taste. The proper course is to withdraw as much as possible from the circles in which she moves, so that she may be spared reminiscences which cannot be other than painful.
Encouraging the Address of a Gentleman
If you encourage the addresses of a man do not lead him about as if in triumph; nor take advantage of the ascendency which you gained by playing with his feelings. Neither affect indifference; nor provoke lovers' quarrels, for the pleasure of reconciliation. On your conduct during courtship will depend the estimation in which you will be held by your husband in after life.
The Relations of an Engaged Couple
Neither should assume a masterful or jealous attitude toward the other. They are neither of them to shut away from the rest of the world, but must mingle in society after marriage nearly the same way as before, and take the same delight in friendship.
Demonstrations of Affection
It may be well to hint that a lady should not be too demonstrative of her affections during the days of her engagement. There is always the chance of a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip; and overt demonstrations of love are not pleasant to remember by a young lady if the man to whom they are given by any chance fails to become her husband. An honorable man will never tempt his future bride to any such demonstration. He will always maintain a respectful and decorous demeanor toward her.
Keeping Late Hours
Very few young men comprehend the pain and inconvenience they occasion to the lady of their choice when they keep her up to untoward hours, and subject her to the ridicule and censure of others.
It is not inappropriate to sometimes leave an engaged couple by themselves, but that they should always be so left, under all circumstances, is as absurd as it is indelicate.
A Domineering Lover
No lover will assume a domineering attitude over his future wife. If he does so, she will do well to escape from his thrall before she becomes his wife in reality. A domineering lover will be certain to be still more domineering as a husband; and from all such the prayer of a wise woman is, “Good Lord, deliver us!”