a group of Victorian women sit on the floor
Tuesday 1 October 2019

How to be a ‘Proper’ Victorian lady: 10 ridiculous rules for women in the 1800's

Next week we have the wonderful Victorian play A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde.

To celebrate we thought we would take a look at some of the ridiculous rules set out in the Moral Encyclopaedia and A Handbook of Etiquette for Ladies that you would be expected to follow if you wished to be considered a ‘proper’ lady!

1. Keep the bling to a minimum
“Never wear mosaic gold or paste diamonds; they are representatives of a mean ambition to appear what you are not, and most likely what you ought not to wish to be.”
— A Hand-Book of Etiquette for Ladies

2. Wait for a man to make the first move
“Let not love begin on your part.” — Moral Encyclopaedia

3. Pipe down
“It is better to say too little than too much in company: let your conversation be consistent with your sex and age.” — A Hand-Book of Etiquette for Ladies

4. Don’t be overly flamboyant
“Fondness for finery shows as bad a taste, as neatness and simplicity imply a good one.” — Moral Encyclopaedia 

5. And keep your Mariah Carey impression to yourself
“Never sing more than one or two songs consecutively.” — A Hand-Book of Etiquette for Ladies

6. Avoid dirty jokes
“Double entendre is detestable in a woman, especially when perpetrated in the presence of men; no man of taste can respect a woman who is guilty of it.”
— A Hand-Book of Etiquette for Ladies

7. Don’t even attempt to read a novel
“Read no novels, but let your study be History, Geography, Biography and other instructive books.” — Moral Encyclopaedia

8. Don't talk about yourself
“Never introduce your own affairs for the amusement of the company; such discussions cannot be interesting to others, and the probability is that the most patient listener is laying the foundation for some tale to make you appear ridiculous.” — A Hand-Book of Etiquette for Ladies

9. Pretend like nothing ever happened…
“If at another’s house you should break anything, do not appear to notice it. Your hostess, if a lady, would take no notice of the calamity, nor say, as is sometimes done by ill-bred persons, ‘Oh! It is of no consequence.'” — A Hand-Book of Etiquette for Ladies

And our personal favourite…

10. Avoid friends
“Trust no female acquaintance, i.e., make no confidant of any one.” — Moral Encyclopaedia

A Woman of No Importance is at Cambridge Arts Theatre from Monday 7 - Saturday 12 October 2019. For more information and how to book tickets, click here.