|Ball dress, 1872 NYPL Digital Gallery|
May I introduce Miss Florence Hartley? She is the author of The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness which was published in 1876. But her – well, Miss Hartley, I must be honest, though polite of course – her very saucy way of admonishing and telling us what to do is really amusing. On another occasion, I will have to tell you what she says about how to dress to go out walking, it is quite rude! In general, really, her advice is sometimes rather…well – and I mean this very respectfully, Miss Hartley - challenging.
Take, for instance, some of her rules for how to behave at a ball (we are watching Pride and Prejudice again just now and so ballrooms are much in my mind). Miss Hartley’s admonishments are in italics:
Avoid confidential conversation in a ball room. It is out of season, and in excessively bad taste.
But don’t be too loud either, that’s just vulgar…
Dance as others do. It has a very absurd look to take every step with dancing school accuracy, and your partner will be the first one to notice it.
In other words, don’t be too good at dancing. On the other hand, you’re not supposed to be bad at it either. Right?
Once you stop dancing and think about refreshments (yum, refreshments!) things can take a decided turn for the (even) worse:
Never go into the supper-room with the same gentleman twice. You may go more than once, if you wish for an ice or glass of water (surely no lady wants two or three suppers), but do not tax the same gentleman more than once, even if he invites you after each dance.
I suspect that he may want two suppers, and is thinking that you are all kinds of rude for not just coming along. And what if you really did want seconds? I guess you could go hunting for snacks with some other guy. But then the servants in the supper room would all be like: oh, her again. And that would not do. I guess the most polite thing to do is to make sure you pack a few horehound drops in your reticule.
Snack time is not the trickiest part of a ball, though. Badly placed hairpins are:
Be very careful, when dressing for a ball, that the hair is firmly fastened, and the coiffure properly adjusted. Nothing is more annoying than to have the hair loosen or the head-dress fall off in a crowded ball room.
Well, isn’t that the truth? Especially if you’re trying to get back into the supper room for a little dessert. I think that the very definition of annoying is having your chignon fall off and land in the middle of the ice cream.