A Lady's Guide to Social Graces
|A Lady's Guide to Social Graces|
The Lady's Guide is a publication meant to guide elegant females through the appropriate public behavior. Aimed at noble women (or hopeful noble women), the book covers a variety of social interactions, and the accepted imperial etiquette standard for everything from ballroom dancing to appropriate seating at the theater. It written by the Kade Court Grand Effleur Genevieve Howlester in 306 for the Regalian social elite and those of Regal Culture. As such, the book is limited in scope and exists only in the capital city.
A Lady’s Guide to Social Graces
What follows is a collection of advice and solid traditions from the society’s pillars of gracious deportment. It is the true hope of this author that the advice within these pages assists any young lady as she debuts in society.
Chapter One: Hosting a Dinner Party
Dinner parties are one of fine society’s mainstays. A gathering of friends joining to share a meal and a night’s enjoyment is the bread and butter of a woman’s entertaining duties. And while entertaining one’s friends is always a happy event, a hostess must make sure all is in place so that she too may join in the night’s pleasures without an air of worry or stress. From preparing the menu, seating arrangements, and after-dinner activities – the evening will run seamlessly with some preparation beforehand.
Arrivals – Prior to dinner men and women are usually separated. Gentlemen off to discuss business over light drinks, while ladies may socialize with tea or refreshing lemonades before dinner is called. This gives each group a chance to socialize casually before the dinner begins.
Setting the Menu – Hostesses should take care to inquire with the guests if they have any truly disliked foods. This is usually done from one lady of the house to another. Gentlemen are rarely to be bothered with such questions except when the parties in question are close friends. One should always begin the meal with small dishes that tantalize those dining with the promise of the meal. First courses should be elegant, small portions that can be finished in three to four bites; expertly prepared and elegantly presented. The second course is one of main contention – for most cultures in the Regalian Archipelago serve a fresh salad. The feature of the mains should always be a roasted animal of some sort. Serving another plate with an alternative form of meat is suggested, along with vegetables and other savories that compliment your main dish. Follow this with a cheese and fruit course, and finally impressive desserts.
After Dinner – Cordials for ladies and spirits for men are served after dinner. Removing oneself from the dining room completely, and socializing together over a card game or music. As a host, never begin a long game or particularly long musical piece. Your guests may become weary, especially after a heavy meal, and you should give them opportunities to depart that will not cause offense. Forcing someone to sit through a twenty-minute musical recital on a full-stomach can be torture for guests. Offer choices, that way they can pick what they would like to do best, or make their excuses on their own schedule.
Chapter Two: Hosting a Ball
Hosting a ball bears little resemblance to the hosting duties in the previous chapter bar one: always be attentive to your guests needs. Balls follow the same general format as a rule, with small alterations to the programs depending upon individual needs. Prepare the musicians well beforehand, as artists are notoriously unreliable. The hosts of the ball should stand near the entry to greet their guests. Guests should not linger in the reception line, but rather proceed into the ballroom after saying their hellos, and let their hosts perform their social duties while they enter discussion with other attendees.
After the hosts have greeted guests for an appropriate amount of time, they should signal for the dancing to begin. Refreshments and bench seating should be placed about the room, for when dancers need a break from their exercise. Sixteen songs is the ideal length of a first set; these songs being the more lively and energetic of the evening. A small break should then be had for supper, after which the second set of dances – more sedate like the waltz, should be given. After the final set, see to it that all parties have a carriage to get home. It would be most thoughtful for the host to have their own carriage ready, in case there are any mishaps with one of the guest’s horses. If a guest has overindulged, it is better to send them home in their own carriage rather than offer your guest room. Spare them the embarrassment of leaving the house in the morning.
A dressing room for a lady, with a maidservant that can sew, should be provided. So that young ladies may attend to any mishaps or tears in their finery in privacy. As is often expected at events where young ladies and gentlemen meet, there may also be the occasional rush of emotions. Having both smelling salts and extra lace fans at the ready to meet these challenges. A spare pair of gloves or two would be an extra touch of hospitality.
Chapter Three: Dancing Etiquette
One of the fondest pastimes society has! Dancing is an activity much adored by the young in society. The chance to socialize together under the watchful eyes of their chaperones, while those who have experienced life more fully may still enjoy the music and steps that harken back to their youth. Balls that require stricter adherence to dancing etiquette are common enough. Dinner parties where music is enjoyed may relax these rules some.
Gentlemen may ask for a lady to save a dance for them, but never more than two. He may not ask for the type of dance; for to do so is an expression of unseemly desire. Rather, he may ask for the first two, or last two of the evenings. Any more than two dances promised is seen as a declaration of possible courtship. Ladies should not refuse a dance with a gentleman unless he is unfit to be accepted by society. If refusing a dance due to weariness, it is common courtesy to give the gentleman who asked the next dance she intends on participating in.
Gentleman should always escort the lady from the dancefloor. Seating her with friends or relatives is preferential, unless a situation begs for his immediate departure. If seating her alone, he should see to getting her refreshments before taking his leave.
Fathers and daughters may always dance one dance together, as may mothers and sons. These dances should always be slow and courtly – designed to express familial respect. Waltzes are considered too intimate for these types of dances – rather, a promenade is the most appropriate. Siblings should never dance together, unless one is functioning as the patriarch or representative of the family.
Ladies do not dance without gloves on, nor do they take the dance floor in anything but appropriate dancing slippers. Silk or velvet are the preferred fabrics for such things, as to make a lady light on her feet. Gentleman should endeavor to tread carefully, and lead all dances. For a lady cannot lead a dance, unless it is a tableau comprised of only female dancers.
Ladies should always be escorted to their carriage directly, or to their family at the end of an evening. A gentleman may offer to hold the lady’s capelet, but should never help her fasten it. If a gentleman is thus charmed at the end of a ball, it is an acceptable salute to the woman to kiss the top of her gloved hand. If the lady is agreeable towards the gentleman, she may bestow one solitary glove as a favor of encouragement.
Chapter Four: Dining Etiquette for Guests
Being invited over to another’s home for a shared meal can be an honor, or on rare occasions, a chore. Some society requirements must be met, where through duty an occasional meal must be attended. But by and large, these are merry affairs that contain quite a bit of fun. As a guest, little is needed except to always be gracious, lively, and grateful for your hosts attentions. When eating with titled individuals, the male with the highest title always sits in the central chair. His wife, or the lady of the house, should be seated to his right. The lady of the house should always be seated on her husband’s side. Seating should endeavor to alternate between men and women, with decreasing titles descending as the table nears its end. Titles of women with Baroness or above should be considered in the hierarchy of seating. Dames and lower may be interspersed. Most hosts will attempt to sort this themselves, but in the case of heightened activity, it serves the guest well to remember.
Gentlemen should always stand when a lady, or a gentleman of a higher title than they enter or leave the room during dinner. Ladies need not stand at all, as it is unfeminine to stand in front of food you are consuming. Ladies should endeavor not to rise at all until the plates have been cleared. One should never talk with their mouth full, and interrupting guests is seen as coarse and unrefined. A gentleman may offer a toast to their fine hosts, and the Empire before the meal begins. After, if the group retires for an evening’s amusement, it is appropriate for ladies who play an instrument to provide a song for the group’s entertainment. Gentlemen may begin a card game, and relaxed chatter is called for the rest of the night.
Do not overstay your welcome, as hosts have most likely spent all day preparing for the occasion. It is encouraged to send a note of thanks the following day, and if desirable, extend an invitation to host your own dinner to those who opened their home to you.
Chapter Five: The Art of Presentation
Today, there are many who may call this tradition old-fashioned. But modesty never goes out of style, and maidens who wish to preserve these ancient ways still proceed with the following advice. Ladies are never to introduce themselves to gentlemen. Indeed, she should not address a gentleman that is her equal or better in social rank without an appropriate introduction. A formal introduction can be made by any acquaintance who has already been introduced to them both. A small curtsey and an elegant bow of the head by the parties in question is all that is required. They can then both acknowledge each other freely in social situations. Ladies and gentlemen should always use each other’s titles, or “Mister” and “Miss” etc., in public. Those who have become well-acquainted with both the individual and the family may ask for permission to refer to them as “Miss Anne,” “Lord Geoffrey,” etc.
When entering a room owned or controlled by another, it is customary to wait to be asked to take a seat, rather than forcing yourself into a chair. Ladies should always be given seats first, in deference to their frail physical body. Gentlemen should walk into rooms before ladies, to assess for any possible obstacles, while ladies deem precedence for exiting. Women of good-breeding should never walk alone unaccompanied on the streets. However, taking a gentleman’s arm while they walk is a gesture reserved for courting or betrothed couples.
Chapter Six: Traveling
Getting from one place to another can be a tedious day’s work – especially for those who are busy. Gentlemen have no bars on the when and where they may travel. Alone or in good company, their presence is never in question. Their only duties lie in escorting women safely around city or road. Women should, as a general rule, never travel alone outside of their own home and parcels of land. There are certain exceptions made for homes in the country – where a small walk to the nearby temple or village does not lend itself to much danger. However, within cities, towns, or long journeys, ladies should always have a partner or two on the streets. Gentlemen who are escorting a woman should never offer their arm unless the woman is elderly or infirm. Entwined arms are reserved for the dance floor only, and should not be displayed on roadways.
Carriage rides should also be undertaken with a chaperone or guard if there is only an unmarried couple present. Closed carriage rides between a single man and woman, especially after dark, are considered immoral. If indulging in a day’s stroll through a city or two, the lady should endeavor to secure the services of a partner or guard before dark. If neither can be found, the lady must head home, as to be on the streets alone after the lamps are lit is frowned upon as a common practice.
Chapter Seven: Places of Amusement
Those lucky enough to live in large cities can attest to the endless cycle of entertainment and society events. Most parties hosted by those of good breeding are on their own property. But that does not mean that young people should cut themselves off from all that society has to offer. For example, public parks that are playing host to concerts, recitals, speeches, and displays can be attended freely by both ladies and gentlemen easily enough. Ladies rarely need chaperones for such open and public gatherings. These occasions amidst the city parks provide a chance for mingling and making plans for future pursuits.
Enclosed public theaters, however, require strict attention to both attendance and comportment. Ladies never go to the theater unattended. Furthermore; each lady must be accompanied by a gentleman. It is preferable that young people go in groups, as long as the male-to-female ratio remains distinctly 1:1. Ladies should wear a small, unobtrusive headpiece or barrette upon their head, and gloves that reach over their elbows. Gentlemen are advised to always wear a coat to the theater, remembering to stand and escort their charges wherever they wish to go in the theater.
Public drinking houses that provide a space for table seating are appropriate for both men and women. Ladies should endeavor to never be seated at a bar. Rather at a table, and let a gentleman bring them a drink. Fairs, carnivals, and other general gatherings subscribe to the same rules as regular street travel. Never alone after dark, and being accompanied is preferred.
Chapter Eight: Servants
The treatment of servants is usually codified within a family’s framework decades before the reader shall even dream of picking up this book. Still, with new opportunities on the horizon every day within our great Empire, there are some who will not be used to interacting with servants on such a scale as may be demanded upon them in the future.
Household servants have a hierarchy of their own. The Steward rules over all those who make up the household staff. Below him stand the family scribe, and any other secretaries assigned to him. Then there is the chef, who rules the kitchen with all other cooks, washing maids, and porters. In direct service to the family, and directly takes orders from the Steward, is the Housekeeper. She orders the footmen, ladies maids, and launderesses. Finally, there is the Head Gardener, who has authority over the rest of the groundskeepers and gamekeepers.
While this hierarchy may have little impact on a guest of the house, it is important to know how to address these servants. Stewards are often times knights or another honored title. It is appropriate to refer to them as “Ser Smith” or equally “Steward Smith.” The Housekeeper, Scribe, Head Gardener, are known as “Mister Smith”or “Missus Smith,” etc. All other servants are merely referred to by their surname, “Smith” and so forth.
Chapter Nine: Courtship and Weddings
Two subjects that are the fascination of every young lady. Courtship traditions can have local traditions and subtleties in their respective regions, but there are some behaviors and customs that defy borders. Once a gentleman has decided on the object of his fancy, he may initiate the first steps of courtship by asking permission to do so from the lady’s guardian. After permission has been granted, the couple shall abide by any particular rules the lady’s guardian has set out. Traditional activities of walking out together, and extra dances at balls are appropriate during this time. Ladies can accept small gifts of confections, flowers, and other small fripperies as appropriate to their station. Jewelry is a gift that should only be accepted once talk of marriage has begun. If gold or silver is shared too soon, there could be accusations that virtue has been abandoned in the courtship. Once engaged, a gift is traditionally exchanged between the couple and between the families being joined together. Wedding gifts of furniture, art, pottery, plates, ceremonial weaponry, and gold is always appropriate. One should avoid gifts of food or clothing, unless they wish to cause insult.
Weddings should be scheduled no shorter than a month from the engagement itself. The expense of the wedding feast is carried by the bride’s family, although it is the groom’s side that often sees to the lodging of the wedding guests. It is traditional to send the wedding gifts ahead of time, so that the couple may choose to display the generosity of their friends. However, you have up to six months to send a wedding gift to a couple, if you were either unable to attend the feast or a temperamental artist holds up the timeliness of the delivery. It is typical for the wedded couple to leave the feast early, while guests often enjoy themselves until dawn. Wedding breakfasts are served en suite, and no member of the party is expected to make much of an appearance until midday. Leaving that day is always recommended to guests.
It is the distinct hope of the author that this guide is helpful to ladies and admirers alike - that they may clothe themselves in the armor of respectable public behavior, and follow their Spirit guided morality to modest and upright presentation.
- This text took an extremely long time to produce and actually needed to be shortened.