Bizarre Social Etiquette Rules of the Victorian Era

Ilana Quinn
6 min readOct 5, 2021

Some social manners and customs expected of high society

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels

The Victorian era—the period of time from 1837 to 1901 marked by Queen Victoria’s rule over the British Empire — is often remembered for a strict observance to social rules and customs.

Indeed, Victorian societies were divided into strict social classes, often characterized by their politeness and lack thereof. As the upper and growing middle classes sought to distinguish themselves from the working poor, they employed these conventions to enforce exclusion and prove their supposed superiority.

According to historian Lawrence E. Klein, many people—merchants, bankers and shopkeepers among them — who were given the chance to mingle with members of the upper class, were eager to employ these social habits to assimilate into polite society.

Manners were of particular importance for young women of the upper class, whose primary goal was to court and marry a wealthy man. “Finishing schools” were established for this purpose, where young ladies learned how to be proper hostesses, wives and mothers.

Wealthy Victorian women were welcomed into society and the world of husband hunting when they became debutantes, throwing lavish parties and balls to attract eligible suitors.

The following is a list of some of the social rules wealthy Victorians followed from various guides and the old-fashioned versions of “self-help” books. Although most of these rules are now seen as archaic by the modern reader, some of our current standards of etiquette have roots in Victorian social etiquette.

Making Conversation

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According to The Handbook of Etiquette: Being a Complete Guide to the Usages of Polite Society, making conversation was one of the most important features of polite society. The handbook instructed members of the middle class on how to engage with genteel company.

Among other things relating to polite discussions, respectable Victorians were advised to take care when relaying news. The handbook stated never to…

Ilana Quinn

I am a university student who writes under a pseudonym about history, life and faith.