Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Vintage Revelations - Know Your Etiquette

Recently I purchased this wonderful book "The Etiquette of To-Day" by Flora Klickmann. Some of you who have been reading my posts may remember that I am a huge Flora Klickmann fan.
Originally published in 1903, this is the second edition, from around 1910-1912 I would guess, judging by the fashions in the illustrations.

The beautiful design on the cover is very Art Nouveau and reminds me of William Morris' textile designs.

I am finding it entertaining and edifying reading. As a vintage buyer and seller, I am learning things about some of my vintage items that I never knew.

My favourite new fact: Do you know why ladies' evening gloves have an opening that buttons at the wrist?
Yes, I can hear you say, it's so that you can get your hand through the narrow wrist opening and into the hand of the glove. That's what I would have said three days ago, and it is correct. But it's only one of the uses for this aperture.
According to Miss Klickmann, it enabled ladies to eat at table without removing their gloves. This also explains why only evening gloves have this opening. Here is what she says:
When seated at the dinner table and immediately after the saying of grace:

"As a rule, ladies now try to avoid entirely removing their long gloves. The hand is slipped through the opening of the buttons and buttonholes, and the fingers are deftly rolled and disposed of under the bracelet at the wrist. This should be done quickly, as the service of the dinner will commence at once." (p.25)

Who knew? I had to try it. I found a pair of evening gloves in my shop and wiggled into them. Without too much difficulty I was able to complete the slip through and roll up action fairly quickly. The bulge above the wrist was not very attractive but I guess it improves with practice.

This ritual only occurred at the dinner table. At luncheon, for instance:
"Gloves are worn till one is seated at the table, and put on again as soon as one leaves the dining room." (p.38)
And apparently, the Americans invented the luncheon party, of which Miss Klickmann is a great fan, celebrating it's informality. Before luncheon parties became popular in the late 19th century, the British only ate with guests at dinner.

A whole chapter is devoted to problems at the table. I now know how to daintily eat plover's eggs and oysters, and I will duly remove the skins and seeds of grapes from my mouth, without a spitting action, and lay them on the side of my plate. I will not be ashamed to use my fingers to eat foods that are clearly most easily eaten that way, such as prawns or strawberries with the leaves on. Miss Klickmann states that to refuse to eat anything with one's fingers when that is clearly the only sensible option is an affectation.

Those of you who are familiar with my Etsy shop will know that I have  a mountain of vintage linen items, especially doilies. Doilies had many uses at the table, and indeed there was a specified size for each doily according to its purpose. If a table cloth was not being used, there were many doilies instead. The service plate doily was twelve inches, the bread and butter plate doily was eight inches and the doily for the water glass was four inches. The doily for the frappe, bullion or finger bowl was seven inches. (Frances Johnson: Collecting Linens, Lace and Needlework)

Miss Klickmann makes special mention of the finger bowl doily. After the fruit, if it is served, the servant would place a finger bowl and doily in front of each guest. The guest should then pick up both the bowl and its doily and move it to their left, to be used or not according to their pleasure.  She doesn't say why the servant couldn't have put it there in the first place.

When calling on someone at their home and taking tea, the rules were somewhat different. Ladies always kept their hats on when taking tea. A gentleman always removed his hat and gloves and carried them in his hands. The exception to this was the doctor, who left his in the hall with the servant. Presumably his hands would be otherwise occupied. The gentlemen, if present, always handed the tea around to the ladies. The tea had already arrived on the tea tray or trolley. Another light globe moment of revelation! That's why there are so many vintage tray cloths around. I had been thinking, gee, they must have liked having breakfast in bed, which is the only use I could think of for a tray. No, tea was always served on the tea tray or trolley. This also explains the tea stains!

The children only made an appearance if a guest requested to see them. They were only allowed in the room for a few minutes, and never allowed to eat in there, in case they learned to take liberties.

If anybody knows how to tell the difference between a tray cloth and a hand towel can they please let me know.

I love Flora Klickmann's restrained and dry sense of humour. While clearly approving of most of the prescribed behaviours she describes, she will drop an ironic comment or two for those who may be taking themselves too seriously. I love her description of arriving at a dinner party:

"The lady enters the drawing room first, and her husband, or masculine escort, follows private gatherings, the man is expected to give place to the woman, and not to stride in like some Red Indian chief, while his goods and chattels follow meekly behind him. It is in entering a room that a woman shows either to the best or the very worst advantage. Do not look round nervously at your husband for protection and assistance; a man is peculiarly unsupportive at such a juncture. Therefore, if he manages to keep off your train (if trains are being worn), and to take care of his own hands, it is the utmost you can reasonably expect of him. In all probability, if he is at all a nervous man, he is thankful that it is his privilege on this occasion to come second, and trusting to make an unobtrusive entry under cover of your magnificence" (p.22)

And lastly, I was very interested to read that "Food is not discussed among refined people."  If the food is bad, clearly it would be very rude to mention that, or indeed to mention that you don't care for a particular dish. If the food is good, it is even more important not to mention it. 

"no one likes it to be supposed that they must eat and drink as much as they can at their friend's, because such luxuries are unknown at their own dinner table". (p.48) 

The reason for the dinner party is social and not culinary. I wonder how they would like that on Master Chef?
P.S. March 13th - I have just found another copy of this on ebay for anyone who may be interested, and it looks like it's in good condition.


The Etiquette of To-Day, edited by Flora Klickmann; second impression; London; The Girl's Own paper & Woman's Magazine

Johnson, Frances; Collecting Antique Linens, Lace and Needlework; 1991; Radnor Pennsylvania; Wallace-Homestead

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