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Victorian etiquette: 27 rules for men when out in public (1889)

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By Nathan B Medbery, author “Social Etiquette”

Etiquette topic: Which treats of manners to be observed when in public

27 simple suggestions on conduct for gentlemen

Number 1 — Don’t fail to keep to the right of the promenade. This is a rule which is often violated, and such violation occasions a great deal of annoyance.

Number 2 — Avoid jostling people on the street; don’t elbow or push. In case you should happen to stumble against anyone, apologize immediately. Be polite.

Number 3 — Don’t stare at people or laugh at their peculiarities; it is exceedingly rude to do so.

Number 4 — Don’t stop acquaintances and stand in the center of the sidewalk, forcing everyone out of their path. On such occasions draw your acquaintance one side.

Number 5 — Don’t carry cane or umbrella in a crowd horizontally. This is very bad practice and is the cause of many mishaps.

Number 6 — It is very ungentlemanly to stand in a public place and stare at the passersby; do not obstruct the entrances to public places.

Number 7 — If you will smoke, do so in the place where it will be the least offensive. It detracts much from the dignity of a gentleman to see him walking along the street with a cigar in his mouth. Above all, do not smoke while walking with a lady.

Number 8 — Don’t expectorate on the sidewalk. Go to the curbstone and discharge the saliva into the gutter. Men who eject great streams of tobacco juice on the sidewalk or on the floors of public vehicles ought to be driven from civilized society.

Number 9 — Raise your hat to every lady acquaintance you meet.

Number 10 — If you have occasion to speak with, or perform some service for, a lady with whom you are not acquainted, raise your hat in respect.

Number 11 — You may bow to a lady who is seated at a window if you are in the street, but you must not bow from a window to a lady in the street.

Number 12 — Be gentle, courteous and kind to children. There is no surer token of a low, vulgar mind than unkindness to little ones whom you may meet in the streets.

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Number 13 — A true gentleman never stops to consider what may be the position of any woman whom it is in his power to aid in the street. He will assist an Irish washwoman with her large basket or bundle over a crossing, or carry over the little charges of a distressed negro nurse, with the same gentle courtesy which he would extend toward the lady who was stepping from her private carriage. The true spirit of chivalry makes courtesy due to the sex not to the position of the individual.

Number 14 — Offer your seat in any public conveyance to a lady who is standing. It is often quite as great a kindness and mark of courtesy to take a child in your lap.

Number 15 — Never join a lady whom you may meet without first asking her permission to do so.

Number 16 — Don’t be servile to your superiors or arrogant towards inferiors. Maintain your dignity and self-respect in the one case, and exhibit a regard for the feelings of people, whatever their station, in the other case.

Number 17 — Leave tobacco severely alone. It is exceedingly disgusting to see a man continually expectorating a quantity of tobacco juice. No gentleman will be so thoughtless as to expectorate upon the sidewalk or in a public conveyance.

Number 18 — The habit of smoking is not quite as offensive as that of chewing, yet we can but protest against the former. Gentlemen never smoke in the presence of ladies without first obtaining permission.

Number 19 — The habit of cigarette smoking is becoming extremely prevalent. This habit is offensive to a person of refinement.

It is almost, if not quite, impossible for the cigarette smoker to rid himself and his clothes of the nauseating odor produced by the use of cigarettes. The hands become discolored and the breath repellant.

Number 20 — Extreme propriety should be observed in dress. Be careful to dress according to your means. Too great saving is meanness, too great expense is an extravagance.

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Number 21 — A young man may follow the fashion farther than a middle aged or elderly man, but let him avoid going to the extreme, if he would not be taken for an empty headed fop.

Number 22 — Don’t bolt without notice into anyone’s private apartment. Respect always the privacy of your friends, however intimate you may be with them.

Number 23 — In connection with the above, let it be said that it is improper to pick up letters, accounts, or anything of a private character that is lying on another’s desk. Avoid looking over another’s shoulder when he is reading or writing.

Number 24 — It is a very common habit for one to twirl a chair or play with some object while listening to another. Do not do this, it is annoying and somewhat disrespectful.

Number 25 — Avoid drumming with your fingers or beating a tattoo with your feet. Don’t hum. Do nothing to annoy or inconvenience another.

Number 26 — Cleanliness and neatness are desirable habits but do not make your toilet in public, that is to say, do not cleanse your ears, or your nose, or trim your fingernails when in the presence of others.

Number 27 — There is a good rule for the dressing room: While you are engaged in dressing, give your whole attention to it; see that every detail is perfect and that each article is neatly arranged.

From the curl of your hair to the tip of your shoe, let all be perfect in its make and arrangement, but as soon as you have left the mirror, forget your dress. Nothing more betokens the coxcomb more decidedly than to see a man always fussing about his dress, pulling down his cuffs, playing with his mustache, pulling up his shirt collar or arranging his cravat.

>> Also see: Victorian etiquette: 16 rules for men on dress and personal habits (1889)

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