How To Be A ‘Proper’ Victorian Lady: 13 Ridiculous Rules For Women In The 1800s

by Jess Catcher
Jess grew up in Oklahoma before moving to New York to become a writer. She has a cat named Agnes.

Though today we know there is no hard and fast rule for what exactly makes a woman “ladylike” (or however else you’d describe a female acting “properly” in public), that definitely wasn’t the case for women in the Victorian era.

Obviously, every culture has its own set of rules that everyone must follow in order to remain polite and kind regardless of whether they’re at a fancy dinner party or simply hanging out with their friends. Women, however, had a much stricter set of guidelines that varied throughout history until finally finding a way to break free from such absurdly high expectations.

You could definitely argue that those living in the 1800s during Queen Victoria’s reign had it worst of all.

Guidelines described in books like A Hand-Book of Etiquette for Ladies, authored by “an American Lady,” and Charles Varle’s Moral Encyclopaedia, detailed exactly how every female should carry herself in order to be considered a “lady.”

Take a look at some of the examples from those guides below and let us know if we missed any of the more ridiculous rules you’ve heard about from back in the day.

And don’t forget to SHARE with your friends!

1. Go Easy On The Shine

Pile of paste diamonds

“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. Keep Your Nails Tidy

Portrait of Victorian woman

“Keep your fingernails scrupulously clean, and avoid the disagreeable habit of allowing them to grow to an unnatural length.” — A Hand-Book of Etiquette for Ladies

3. Pipe Down

Women sitting for tea

“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 Venture Far From Home

Victorian women by the ocean

“Be not too often seen in public.” — Moral Encyclopaedia

5. Keep It Simple

Victorian woman black and white

“Fondness for finery shows as bad a taste, as neatness and simplicity imply a good one.” — Moral Encyclopaedia

6. Avoid Dirty Jokes

Dinner table

“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. Wait For A Man To Make The First Move

Victorian couple

“Let not love begin on your part.” — Moral Encyclopaedia

8. Skip Frivolous Fictional Entertainment


“Read no novels, but let your study be History, Geography, Biography and other instructive books.” — Moral Encyclopaedia

9. Don't Talk About Yourself

Male and female talking

“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

10. Skip The Handwear

Long table of people at dinner

“Ladies do not wear gloves during dinner.” — A Hand-Book of Etiquette for Ladies

11. Don't Be A Literal Diva

Woman playing piano while standing

“Never sing more than one or two songs consecutively.” — A Hand-Book of Etiquette for Ladies

12. Never Admit Guilt

Broken glass

“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

13. Avoid Friends

Group of women portrait

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

Did we miss any other major rules you’ve heard about from back in the day for being seen as a “lady”? Let us know below, and be sure to SHARE with your friends!