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Country House Visits


View of a hunting party on The Glen estate

Disraeli, in his ” Lothair,” wrote of a visit to a country house that ” it is a series of meals mitigated by the new dresses of the ladies.”

Since his day there have been great changes in country house etiquette. In fact, the very word seems out of place, so free and easy are the manners and customs of this century in its early youth, as compared with those of the mid-Victorian period. The youth of both sexes behave with a sans-gene that would horrify their grandmothers, and would also startle their mothers if the latter were not well on the same road themselves.

However, the hostess is still allowed the privilege of inviting such guests as she may wish to have in her house, and she is still permitted to suggest the day when she can receive them, and mention that on which the visit may terminate. To such cool requests as: “Dear Mrs. Dash, – Could you put us up for a couple of nights next week, perhaps the 14th and 15th? It would be so sweet of you! ” she can find some excuse for replying in the negative. Such relief is still possible, but whether it will continue to be so for very long is another question. Things are marching at a great rate, and leaving the conventions far behind.

Modern Manners

The attitude of too many invited persons is that of conferring a favour by accepting an invitation to stay a week or so at a country house. It peeps out in the tone of the reply: “Thanks so much for your invitation. I am so sorry that I cannot accept it, but I am very busy in getting my new house shipshape. You will excuse me, I know.”

These were the exact words of a note of the kind written by a woman of good position. Not a word of thanks, and “excuse” quite in the wrong place. The regrets should have been expressed as though inability to accept the invitation was the writer’s loss. The thanks also might have been warmer. But the letter is typical of the bad manners of to-day.

The usual invitation runs as follows:

“My dear Mrs. Whyte, – Can you and Mr. Whyte spare us a few days next month? We should be so pleased if you could come to us on Monday, the 17th, and remain till the 24th. The Hunt Ball comes off on the 19th, and I know you are fond of dancing. Hoping you can come, and with kind regards to you both, believe me, very truly yours, – Constance Greene.”

The reply should not be delayed too long. The mistress of a country house has to plan out her relays of guests and fit in her friends so that all those she is anxious to have shall be included. Therefore, a delay in answering is not common politeness.

Letters Of Acceptance

In sending an acceptance it is usual, and convenient, to mention not only the day of arrival, but also the date of departure, that suggested in the invitation. This prevents any misconception on the point, such as arises occasionally from indistinct writing, the similarity between the figures 3 and 5, 7 and 9, etc.

If a refusal is sent, the regret expressed should be all for oneself, and a good reason should be given. A prior engagement is the usual one. It covers everything, and is therefore adequate. An inadequate excuse is a rudeness. It shows so clearly that the writer is declining for the simple reason that she Would rather stay away, and has trumped up some futile excuse for want of a real one.

In writing to accept any invitation the present tense, not the future, should be used.

It gives me great pleasure to accept,” not “It Will give me.” Acceptance is done in the present, though the visit itself is in the future. This is very frequently forgotten.

Apropos of the hunt ball, or any other amusement mentioned in an invitation, it would not be very polite to dwell enthusiastically upon one’s pleasant anticipation of it. To do so might suggest the idea that the invitation had been accepted rather on account of the ball than for the pleasure of staying with one’s host and hostess. This may be quite the state of the case, but good manners forbid it to be allowed to appear. Motors and Chauffeurs

On receiving an acceptance the hostess Writes again, expressing her pleasure at the news that her friends are coming, and giving them information about the trains, saying that the visitors will be met at whatever hour they may decide to arrive at the station. In wealthy circles, where many travel in their own motor, the capacity of the garage is referred to as adequate, or otherwise, to the accommodation of another. For instance:

“There will be room for your car between the dates mentioned, as the Greys leave us on the 16th, taking theirs with them.”


“I regret to say we shall not be able to put up your car. It is unfortunate, but our garage is limited in size, and the Marshes and Mallows will be here, and theirs quite fill it, added to our own. You can always have one of ours, however.”

A Wise Convention

In addition to valets and lady’s-maids, the upper-class hostess is now expected to house chauffeurs as well. Taking everything into consideration, a hostess is rather more like the manageress of a hotel than the owner of a private house during the visiting season. And the behaviour of her guests often goes far to confirm the impression. As often as not they give their address to their acquaintance without taking the trouble to mention the name of their host. Consequently replies arrive without the line “c/o So-and-so,” once considered imperatively necessary. It is an unpardonable omission, or would have been considered so not long ago, but it serves to show the trend of things. It is also a stupid omission, especially if the house should happen to be one of several grouped together. The name of the owner on the envelope ensures its punctual delivery. The name of the addressee is probably unknown in the district where he or she is only on a visit. There is a good, solid reason for many of the rules of politeness.

Breakfast at a big country house is a variable meal. Some of the guests have it in their bedrooms, and those who come downstairs for it do so at any hour they prefer. One hostess made herself very popular by putting on the little list hung in her guestrooms, among hours of letter delivery and collection:

” Breakfast before Luncheon.”

This list, by the way, is extremely useful. It gives the hours of meals, postal and telegraphic information, date of any entertainment about to take place in the neighbourhood, such as balls or theatricals, and any other items that the hostess may think likely to be useful.

A propos of this, a supply of notepaper bearing the address of the house, of blotting-paper, ink, pens, pencils, stamps, and telegram forms should be provided on a table in the bedroom.

Plans for the day are usually discussed at breakfast, and here again there is strong contrast between Victorian days and the present. The host or hostess used to suggest some plan that they had devised for giving pleasure to their visitors; but now, as often as not, the guests have mapped out their own day, and tell their entertainers what they think of doing. Sometimes it is more or less subtly suggested that the use of the motorcar for a few hours would be appreciated. There are women who know how to ” manage ” their hostess so cleverly as to make it appear that any such suggestion has come from her, not from themselves, even combating the offer when made with some appearance of vigour, though it is precisely what they had been leading up to all the time. But this ” management ” does not always make for future invitations.

Arranging the Dinner-table

The rigid rules of etiquette that once governed the allotment of places at the dinner-table are now replaced by many informal methods, except in the case of dinners to which guests are bidden in any numbers additional to the house-party. At these, and also on the first evening of a large party assembling, the rules of precedence are carefully followed. But afterwards there are many ways of varying the dinner partners. Not infrequently some of the guests themselves come to an understanding during the day as to whom they shall sit next. Sometimes lots are drawn. Sometimes the names of the men are written on slips of paper and put in a bag, and the women draw from it while it is half-closed, so that they cannot read the names; or, vice versa, the men draw the names of possible partners.

An Age of Easy Manners

The shopping plan is sometimes followed – firms with two names are chosen. The names are written separately and put in a bag. Who ever draws the name of one partner in the firm pairs off with the person who draws the other. In sporting houses the names of horses and owners are utilised after the same fashion.

A free and easy manner has become a characteristic of our highest class. The upper middle-class young man still jumps up to open the door for his hostess or any other lady, asks permission to smoke a cigarette in her presence, and conforms in other ways to the rules of ten years since.


The question of tipping servants arises at the end of a visit. Like all things, tips have increased in amount during the last fifteen years. Men-servants expect far more than in former years. There is now the host’s chauffeur, too, to reckon with, and his demands are not small. An extraordinary custom is permitted at a few country houses. On the day when a guest terminates a visit the men-servants are allowed to throw themselves in his or her way, and they have to be tipped.

On the other hand, it is the rule in some country houses to forbid tips. In such cases the hostess makes some special arrangement with her servants. Otherwise they would consider themselves ill-used, for tips amount to large sums in houses where constant relays of guests are entertained. The Tip Problem

The amount given as a tip depends on circumstances, and particularly on the position and social standing of the visitor. The following remarks apply to guests in the same set as their host, who is supposed to be a man of the wealthy upper classes. The butler will expect a sovereign for a few days’ visit. If there have been many motor-car rides, the chauffeur will expect from half a sovereign upwards. If he only meets the guest at the station and drives him back to it, five shillings or three half-crowns will do. This, too, will meet the case of a woman visitor. For a week-end visit she will give five shillings to the maid who looks after her room, half a crown to the footman or parlourmaid who carries down her luggage when she is leaving, and a similar amount to the coachman who drives her to the station. A chauffeur will expect more. If her luggage is sent on some other vehicle, she will find the driver of it waiting to be remembered.

For longer visits the tips would be in proportion to the length. A girl is not expected to give such liberal tips as her married friends. Married couples pay their tips separately, the man giving something to the butler, his wife to the parlourmaid and housemaid, sometimes to the housekeeper if she has to avail herself of her services in any way. Should a man-servant have valeted the husband, the latter should give him a tip.

At the conclusion of a ten-days’ visit to a house where there is no shooting, the money spent on tips sometimes amounts to five pounds.

Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia

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The Etiquette of Appropriate Dress


Tea Gowns

Neatness and simple elegance should always characterize a lady, and after that she may be as expensive as she pleases, if only at the right time. And we may say here that simplicity and plainness characterize many a rich woman in a high place; and one can always tell a real lady from an imitation one by her style of dress. Vulgarity is readily seen even under a costly garment. There should be harmony and fitness, and suitability as to age and times and seasons. Every one can avoid vulgarity and slovenliness; and in these days, when the fashions travel by telegraph, one can be à la mode.

French women have a genius for dress. An old or a middle-aged woman understands how to make the best of herself in the assorting and harmonizing of colors; she never commits the mistake of making herself too youthful. In our country we often see an old woman bedizened like a Figurante, imagining that she shall gain the graces of youth by borrowing its garments. All this aping of youthful dress “multiplies the wrinkles of old age, and makes its decay more conspicuous.”

For balls in this country, elderly women are not expected to go in low neck unless they wish to, so that the chaperon can wear a dress such as she would wear at a dinner—either a velvet or brocade, cut in Pompadour shape, with a profusion of beautiful lace. All her ornaments should match in character, and she should be as unlike her charge as possible. The young girls look best in light gossamer material, in tulle, crêpe, or tarlatan, in pale light colors or in white, while an elderly, stout woman never looks so badly as in low-necked light-colored silks or satins. Young women look well in natural flowers; elderly women, in feathers and jewelled head-dresses.

If elderly women with full figure wear low-necked dresses, a lace shawl or scarf, or something of that sort, should be thrown over the neck; and the same advice might be given to thin and scrawny figures. A lady writes to us as to what dress should be worn at her child’s christening. We should advise a high-necked dark silk; it may be of as handsome material as she chooses, but it should be plain and neat in general effect. No woman should overdress in her own house; it is the worst taste. All dress should correspond to the spirit of the entertainment given.

Light-colored silks, sweeping trains, bonnets very gay and garnished with feathers, lace parasols, and light gloves, are fit for carriages at the races, but they are out of place for walking in the streets. They may do for a wedding reception, but they are not fit for a picnic or an excursion. Lawn parties, flower shows, and promenade concerts, should all be dressed for in a gay, bright fashion; and the costumes for these and for yachting purposes may be as effective and coquettish as possible; but for church, for readings, for a morning concert, for a walk, or a morning call on foot, a tailor-made costume, with plain, dark hat, is the most to be admired. Never wear a “dressy ” bonnet in the street.

The costumes for picnics, excursions, journeys, and the sea-side should be of a strong fabric, simple cut, and plain color. Things which will wash are better for our climate. Serge, tweed, and pique are the best. The trim tailor-made dresses and short skirts for bicycle riders leave nothing to be desired as to conciseness arid health, but are not often becoming.

A morning dress for a late breakfast may be as luxurious as one pleases. The modern fashion of imitation lace put on in great quantities over a foulard or a gingham, a muslin or a cotton, made up prettily, is suitable for women of all ages; but an old “company dress ” furbished up to do duty at a watering-place is terrible, and not to be endured.

It has been the fashion of late years to wear full dress at weddings. The groom at the same time wearing morning costume. It is an era of low necks for the young. The pendulum of fashion is swinging that way. We have spoken of this before, so only record the fact that the low neck will prevail in many summer evening house dresses as well as for morning weddings, the bride always wearing a high-necked dress.

The fashion of draping skirts tightly should make all women very careful as to the way they sit down. Some Frenchman said he could tell a gentleman by his walk; another has lately said that he can tell a lady by the way she sits down. A woman is allowed much less freedom of posture than a man. He may change his position as he likes, and loll or lounge, cross his legs, or even nurse his foot if he pleases; but a woman must have grace and dignity; in every gesture she must be “ladylike.” Any one who has seen a great actress like Modjeska sit down will know what an acquired grace it is.

A woman should remember that she “belongs to a sex which cannot afford to be grotesque.” There should never be rowdiness or carelessness.

The mania for extravagant dress on the stage, the pieces des robes, is said to be one of the greatest enemies of the legitimate drama. The leading lady must have a conspicuous display of elaborate gowns, the latest inventions of the modistes. In Paris these stage costumes set the fashions, and bonnets and caps and gowns become individualized by their names. They look very well on the wearers, but they look very badly on some elderly, plain, middle-aged, stout woman who has adopted them.

Plain satins and velvet, rich and dark brocades, made by an artist, make any one look well. The elderly woman should be able to move without effort or strain of any kind; a black silk well made is indispensable; and even ” a celebrity of a by-gone day “may be made to look handsome by a judicious but not too brilliant toilette.

The dress called “complimentary mourning,” which is rather a contradiction in terms, is now made very elegant and dressy. Black and white in all the changes, and black bugles and bead trimming, all the shades of lilac and of purple, are considered by the French as proper colors and trimmings in going out of black; while for full mourning the English still preserve the cap, weepers, and veil, the plain muslin collar and cuffs, the crape dress, large black silk cloak, crape bonnet and veil.

Heavy, ostentatious, and expensive habiliments are often worn in mourning, but they are not in the best taste. The plain-surfaced black silks are commendable.

For afternoon tea in this country the hostess generally wears a handsome high-necked gown, often a combination of stamped or brocaded velvet, satin, and silk. She sometimes wears what in England is called a “tea-gown,” which is a semi-loose garment. For visiting at afternoon teas no change is made from the ordinary walking dress, unless the three or four ladies who help receive come in handsome reception dresses. A skirt of light brocade with a dark velvet over-dress is very much worn at these receptions, and if made by a French artist is a beautiful dress. These dark velvets are usually made high, with a very rich lace ruff.

The high Medicean collar and pretty Medicean cap of velvet are in great favor with the middle-aged ladies of the present day, and are a very becoming style of dress for the opera. The present fashion of full dress at the opera, while it may not improve the music, certainly makes the house look very pretty and stately.

Too many dresses are a mistake, even for an opulent woman. They get out of fashion, and excepting for a girl going out to many balls they are entirely unnecessary. A girl who is dancing needs to be perpetually renewed, for she should be always fresh, and the “wear and tear” of the cotillon is enormous. There is nothing so poor as a dirty, faded, and patched-up ball-dress; the dancer had better stay at home than wear such.

The fashion of sleeves should be considered. A stout lady should wear, for a thin sleeve, black lace to the wrist, with bands of velvet running down, to diminish the size of the arm. All lace sleeves to the elbow, with drops of gold, or steel trimming, or jets, are very becoming to any arm.

Tight lacing is very unbecoming to those who usually adopt it—women of thirty-eight or forty, who are growing a little too stout. In thus trussing themselves up, they simply get an unbecoming redness of the face, and are not the handsome, comfortable-looking creatures which Heaven intended they should be. Two or three beautiful women, well-known in society, killed themselves by tight lacing. This has begun to attract the attention of physicians. The effect of an inch less waist was not apparent enough to make this a wise sacrifice of health and ease of breathing.

At a lady’s lunch party, which is always an occasion for handsome dress, and where bonnets are always worn, the faces of those who are too tightly dressed always show the strain by a most unbecoming flush; and as American rooms are always too warm, the suffering must be enormous.

It is a very foolish plan, also, to starve one’s self, or “bant” for a graceful thinness; women only grow wrinkled, show crow’s-feet under the eyes, and look less young than those who let themselves alone.

A gorgeously dressed woman in the proper place is a fine sight. A well-dressed woman is she who understands herself and her surroundings.

The recent edict of the Queen, that high dresses and long sleeves may be worn on a Presentation, will revolutionize costume in England. It, however, gives elderly and delicate women a great advantage, as only the marble skins look well on a cold English morning.

Tea-gowns are worn at receptions and afternoon teas, sometimes at small dinners in England and the United States, in 1900. They are very beautiful dresses, often of white satin trimmed with sable, and are most restful after a spin on the bicycle or the stiff habit required by horseback riding. They give a relief from the wearisome corset, and can be the most Oriental and charming things in the world.

The present fashion of white waists, or waists of a different color from the dress, is very cleanly, convenient, and economical, but singularly unbecoming to the average woman.

Manners and Social Usages (1900)

Briticisms and Americanisms


Ladies gossiping

Our British brethren are great sticklers for ancient usage so far as spelling is concerned. Booksellers, publishing books for sale on both sides of the water, find it necessary to use the English orthography, if they wish to capture British trade. Yet the same people who insist that “honour” must be spelled with a “u,” think it strange that we should prefer such Shakespearian words as “apothecary” and “lawyer,” to “chemist” and “barrister,” o illogical is human nature! It should be noted that “baggage” is also to be found in Shakespeare. Hence we Americans have good authority for its use, even though the English always say “luggage.”

Among the Briticisms which Mr. White mentions are the following:

“As well” used, in the sense of “all the same.” “Her aged lover made her presents, but just as well she hated him.”

“Awful” for “very.” I had always supposed that our countrymen were responsible for this misuse of the words “awful” and “awfully,” but Mr. White says that we are not.

He “commenced” poetry, or he “commenced” school, for he “began to write” poetry, or “began” to study. This form of expression is certainly very slipshod.

“Directly” used in the sense of “when,” “as soon as.” “Directly Mr. Parnell rose to his feet, the cries of the opposition began.”

“Stop” for “stay.” As Mr. White says, to stop is to arrest motion, to stay is to remain where motion is arrested. Hence it is better to say, “I stayed at a hotel,” than to adopt the English phrase, “I stopped at a hotel.”

“Ill” for “sick” is another Briticism. The English confine the use of the latter to seasickness and its equivalents. Yet the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church speaks of the “visitation of the sick,” and the Bible uses the word in the same general sense.

English people employ the word “nasty” much more commonly than Americans, who find it unpleasant.

With regard to the use of “bid” and “bidden” for invite and invited, it can at least be said that this is a return to the old use of the words. Bidden has a rather quaint and pretty sound, and is less offensive to our ears than some of the other words used by Anglophiles.

A-B-C of Correct Speech and the Art of Conversation (1916)