It has been a month once again and my third-Thursday blog is due up. How the gentlemen of the Victorian Age behaved has been on my mind, lately. The gentleman’s fashion which included his lifestyle was as in prior eras, all about money, but not in the way it had been. Bear with me and I’ll explain.
This past month saw me putting together etiquette guidelines for teenagers and their parents who are of a similar milieu. The Victorian era was a turning point in social customs as I mentioned on previous blogs. The teens I focused upon this week were anxious to be in-step with where they should be for their age group and social class. Opportunities to learn behaviors that keep them in their echelons are often hard to come by if not learned at home. Many of their parents, though, descended from emerging social classes that found their way West in the Victorian era, pioneering and all, when social mores mixed and not always well. Good behavior got many through hardships and challenges of the growing pains of a young country. The attentive teens who took the course I wrote a booklet for are well on their way to being recognizable from a distance as being trained in the ways of refinement, a new milieu for some. I hope they enjoy the techniques that empower them as much as the skills empowered their ancestors.
In the Victorian era, a social milieu could be spotted from afar and one could find something of a comrade in arms. Echelons were being disguised, imitated or otherwise polished up as room was made for more. The result was that more unspoken cues of rank in Society were relied upon.
The gentlemen of the Victorian era were in league overall to create a visual sense of oneness. An affectation of scrupulous economy and even miserly wealth began in the mid 18th Century after economic fluctuations hit noble household coffers. Until then, relative wealth had been worn and adorned, partly in an unspoken agreement to convey information on one’s means if not actually one’s social ranking. A monarch could, after all, be penniless but still at the top of power, but a Colonial family upstart bloodline bettering itself might arrive with the wealth of Midas and not make an impact beyond the entertainments.
Into the Victorian era gentlemen dressed well and donned one by one the new fashion of the new financiers. After hours, if not dressing for dinner, a gentleman donned sporting gear. He paraded about as if for a hunt or a game of tennis or perhaps a leisurely sail. Dressing for leisure didn’t require actually participating in the event, after all, but being in the mode was important in the off hours leisure of the Victorian gent.
Thinking was a shared past-time for gentlemen. The philosophies of the times were separated from the politics which required, in most cases, ladies of breeding to leave a room. Gentlemen in the habit of talking politics at the table after dinner would join the ladies after a good hour, or so. Much could be decided. Alternately, the men would leave a dining room briefly for a shared beverage or private tea or to discuss important matters. Some men who attended social clubs or the wilder establishments such as brothels waited until the ladies were settled in for their evening activities. This deference to the ladies schedules had begun in the Elizabethan era.
Top hats were indicative of the importance of propriety and high styles of gentlemen; top hats, of course, remained on at all times including during dining, unlike other hat styles. Tuxedos and white gloves were in use when possible and walking sticks had a revival, although were later spurned after the Civil War when pedestrianism was shunned by New Money and even became a derogatory.
Gentlemen were still to be seen taking evening constitutionals or leisurely walks after a good meal, sometimes with a grand lady’s company quite properly. Although the social classes were in chaotic flux during the era, gentlemen were still pressed to escort proper ladies to and fro, irregardless of the relations. A man from an established social class or Society paid close mind of a lady’s comings and goings when entrusted in his care, say, to escort into town or even to formal events. Carriages and horses were expensive and often economized upon, especially post-Civil War, and so often combined trips were planned between households. The gentleman would at the very least see a lady of his class to the allocated stop for carriages where large paper signs were posted on the sides of buildings indicating the schedule. A gentleman could therefore be seen about town with any number of ladies from his ilk without comment, unlike in some earlier centuries or even later ones, without question or regard.
Good tailoring went without saying, if at all possible, as a gentleman was always concerned with fitting in with his peers. Ready-made was a term in use already. It was good to have it available for all men from all walks of life. A man could tell others of his breeding and training, though, for milieu and echelon distinction by just which details on the attire were done in what manner, so tailoring was still highly in demand. But the difference, say, between a man who owned a business and one of his underling employees might be only evident in the closely examined detail on suits or other gear. The Victorian era was a great equalizer in its uniform like focus in menswear.
Old-fashioned was also a term in use, and the ability of a gentleman to incorporate the new look as it was called was important in business dealings. Bright and mismatched garb was out, although eventually the mismatched suit came back in vogue as the royalty donned the drab shades in blending colors and harmonious patterns. It all went with the vary carefully guarded attitudes and well-honed lingo in dialogue.
Conversation was at an art form when other social graces were being challenged and held up to scrutiny by outsiders infiltrating social classes. Charities as mentioned before brought all men to an equal footing in a common good cause. The occasional distraction of an unusual fashion in behavior still occurred, but in a spike of attention that fizzled out. Fops being one example mid-Century. In truth, most of the history making fashion trends for gentlemen were nothing more than a blip on the radar of retailing history.
Soldiering was always at the height of prestige and a gentleman could don his uniform for any event or even as daywear, even after the wars were long behind. During winning campaigns soldiers were actually mobbed by ladies and given priority tables at restaurants and entrance nearly anywhere.
Facial hair was in style, and although moustaches were frowned upon until they took an upturn in direction during the Edwardian era, sideburns grew down to the collar. The sartorium were just one of the styles of facial hair, a bit more graceful than mutton chops which stood away from the jaw line.
Agreeability was an indicator that a gentleman had been brought up well. Gamesmanship and good sportsmanship all were taught, and learning to table a conversation or topic was a rudimentary skill. Despite showdowns at high noon where a goodly number of gentleman of refined backgrounds were disguised as cowboys or men with tin stars, fighting and feuding openly was de clase for the times. Considering just how many wars and campaigns went on worldwide, it was no wonder.
Gentlemen worked at something, and they were pressured by the ladies of their Society to do so. They could take on a good adventure and explore if they weren’t of a mind to be in business or similar. Otherwise it was one area where a lady was allowed to take the men of her household or class to task. Otherwise, a gentleman expected it to be his right to be treated with the utmost of graciousness and charm by those of the gentler persuasion, and to respond in kind.
I’ll see you on the blog again next month.