Being “courted” sounds so much more romantic than “dating.” At least it did until I started writing books set in the 19th century and saw how different courting is from our modern dating practices. Since we’ve come upon the romantic month of February and Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the quirkiest practices Victorian era men and women participated in when looking for a spouse.
Here are the 10 I found most interesting:
First order of business: Let the guys know you were of marrying age by doing away with your pigtails and replacing them with an up-do. Back in the day, this milestone was referred to as “she turned up her hair.” I don’t know about you, but I still had occasion to put my hair in pigtails when I was in my forties.
Women “came out” around ages 17-18, depending on their family’s financial status. This meant that they had successfully completed their education and were now eligible for marriage.
Once they were “out,” young women of high-ranking families were never allowed out of the house alone. For the first several years of their social lives, they were escorted everywhere by their mothers, or a close female relative. Ohmygosh. Just kill me now.
Social customs prohibited women from speaking to those of a higher social rank unless introduced to them by a mutual friend. Those girls from the 19th century were not about to put up with that, though. If they saw some hottie across the room that they hadn’t been introduced to, they could tell him they “found him most attractive” by closing their fan and placing it over their hearts. There were a TON of communication gestures women used their fans for. But we’ll save that for another time.
Unmarried couples were not permitted to be alone together at home. If an unmarried couple were in the same room together, one member of the couple’s family was required to sit with them. Ohmygosh. Kill me twice.
Couples had to adhere to very strict rules concerning their behavior when in public. Women were told to never adjust their appearance, gossip, discuss finances or use crude language. Men were expected to behave in a noble manner, to take relationships slowly and to never hold a woman’s hand unless he was supporting her. I have an etiquette book written in the 1890s that’s 468 pages long. Yikes.
Victorian women used dance cards to keep track of the men they wished to dance with at balls and other social events. You couldn’t dance with the same guy more than two times without creating a scandal, though.
Love tokens were sent between men and women to relay messages they were unable to verbalize in public. Flowers, gemstones and other tokens each had a specific meanings that were meant to be decoded by the recipient. Okay. I like this one. Reminds me of a scene in the time-travel movie Kate and Leopold where Leopold explains to a 21st century guy the meanings of all the flowers he’d just picked up for his love interest. Ha.
- Men were encouraged to never show affection to only one woman, unless they intended to propose to her. Seriously? I would not be too happy if my guy was showing affection to everybody and their sister. Nope. Not happy at all. I’d probably have to get out my handy-dandy fan and “make threatening movements” with it to indicate my acute displeasure.
Couples were supposed to be “balanced” in looks and temperament - meaning that if you had a dark complexion and an outgoing personality, you would be best paired with someone who was lighter complected and more reserved. I’m 5’2” and my man is 6’5”. What do you think? Balanced or ridiculous looking?
So what do you think? Are you a “Courting” or a “Dating” kind-of-girl? Any of these practices ones you’re glad you don’t have to endure? Any you’d like to see come back?