“One of the gre…

“One of the great plagues of travel is the preposterous quantity of luggage which women, as a rule, insist upon taking with them. They pack up for the trip everything that they think is likely to prove useful; and as they will never admit that they possess one useless thing in their wardrobe, the only articles left behind are those which ultimately are either sold to the dealer or sent as Christmas presents to poor relations. Now, it is not at all necessary to take with you your whole wardrobe to persuade people that you are a respectable person. People on the Continent who travel much care little about who or what you are, so long as you are not dressed in an outrageously vulgar style. If you appear plainly attired, so that no one thinks of observing your costume, you will be thought a sensible girl or woman, who, if she has never been abroad before, has something of a traveller’s instinct. If, on the contrary, you are perpetually changing your dress, appearing in new colours every day, and endeavouring to attract attention, you will be regarded as a vulgar woman, who has seen nothing of the world, whom it is desirable to avoid, or as the walking advertisement of some second-rate London dressmaker.”

  • Complete Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen: A Guide to the Rules and Observances of Good Society. London: Ward, Lock & Co. Ltd, 1900. Chapter XVII: Foreign Travel, pg. 87-8.

I am constantly fascinated by historical etiquette, particularly etiquette books. Some of them, like the one above, can drift into snarky territory, but they can really reveal much about the “ideals” of “polite society”/”good breeding” as much as they tell us, through their anxieties and condemnations, about class tensions, social interactions, and the everyday annoyances of life.

I am currently reading through multiple etiquette books from about 1896-1915 in search of etiquette for travellers, as I am thinking of framing a term paper on tourism, society and trans-Atlantic crossings in etiquette advice.

Some of the advice they give is still incredibly practical. I will have to post excerpts from Maud C. Cooke’s Social Etiquette Or Manners and Customs of Polite Society (1896). Her advice on fashion, particularly what is flattering with different hair colours, complexions and body types, is still incredibly relevant. Her advice on bicycle etiquette (which she seems to be quite anxious about and spends quite a bit of time discussing) also deserves its own blog post. Or personalized Twitter feed.

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