On several of the writer's email loops I'm on questions about Balls and proper behavior are often asked. In writing historicals we try to be accurate but we also want our characters to mingle and speak with one another. The challenge is to do allow your characters to speak with one another in a proper fashion and setting that won't send our historical readers into a frenzy throwing our books across the room because the situation we've created wasn't believable. With that in mind, I've been searching various books on manners and customs of the 19th century. Today's excerpt comes from "Manners: A handbook of social customes" by Elisabeth Marbury ©1888 Note the last comment posted, isn't it great that our 19th century ancestors and characters enjoyed fiction.
BALLS OR EVENING PARTIES.
These entertainments always include dancing and a supper. If large, they are called "balls," but if small simply "dances" or "parties."
Hour.—Unfortunately, fashion has made this very late, and unless especially indicated on the invitation, half-past ten is the earliest a hostess can hope to assemble her guests. In large cities, an hour later even will hardly insure the rooms being full.
Subscription Dances.—In most of the large cities, several series of dances are arranged by certain of the social leaders, to which people are invited to subscribe. Each subscriber, is usually entitled to a number of invitations for distribution, though in some instances the price of the subscription is small, and only permits one person to take advantage of each.
Public Halls.—The subscription balls take place in some public ball-room, as a rule. In New York, for instance, at Delmonico's.
Ladies Receiving.—Several ladies are selected to form the reception committee, and they stand in one of the outer rooms, bowing to the guests as they enter.
Shaking Hands.—On such occasions, no one shakes hands; the ladies courtesy, and the gentlemen bow.
Chaperons.—No unmarried lady should go to one of these balls, or to any large party, without a chaperon, and invitations should be sent to an elder member of her family, in order that she need not look out side for proper attendance. In the West and South, it is quite customary for gentlemen to take unmarried ladies to evening entertainments, but in the Eastern States, and in the best society in our cities, such a thing is unheard of, and would be considered the greatest breach of decorum.
Small Dances. — It is not absolutely necessary that a young lady should have a chaperon at a small or informal dance in a private house, but she should be escorted there and back by a servant or some relative.
Toilets.—At a ball, a lady can display her handsomest jewels and wear as elaborate a toilet as she pleases. Gentlemen should always appear in dress suits.
MUsIc, etc.—Excellent music should be provided, and a smooth floor to dance on.
SUPPeR.—Is usually served about 12.30, and should consist of hot and cold dishes, such as oysters, bouillon, game, croquettes, filet of beef, salads, pates, ices, cakes, sweets, jellies, fruit, and champagne, punch, lemonade and mineral waters are usually provided. Small tables are frequently used at balls, so that four or six people may sit at one table and eat their supper comfortably in courses.
Attendance.—Maids should be in the ladies' dressing-rooms, and valets in the gentlemen's. Small fees of twenty-five or fifty cents are often given to servants in the dressing-room at a public ball, but never in private houses in this country, though the custom is common in England. Waiters should be on hand at supper to serve the meal, as the fashion of the gentlemen waiting upon the ladies is rapidly becoming obsolete.
Awnings. — In large cities, an awning should always be extended from the front door to the curb-stone, on the occasion of a reception, or other entertainment, as the ladies do not like to step out of their carriages in light and elaborate dresses without some protection from the weather and from the impertinent gaze of a curious crowd.
Cotillon Or German. — This dance, now so widely known, fills up the larger part of the evening, and begins, as a rule, immediately after supper. In a private house, the gentleman who has been invited to lead the German must ask the unmarried daughter of the family to dance with him, or the married daughter, if so indicated as the family's choice. At the more general dances or large balls, a young married lady is usually the one selected to dance with the leader.
Partners.—It is quite the custom for a gentleman to engage a partner for the Cotillon before the evening of the dance, and in this case, provided he can afford it, he usually sends her a bouquet of flowers.
Flowers Carried To Balls.—The fashion of carrying numerous bouquets to a ball is rapidly ceasing to exist, and many of the most popular belles refuse to take any flowers into a ball-room, the old custom having given rise to so much vulgar rivalry and display.
Public Balls.—These are much more promiscuous than private balls, even when conducted carefully, and tickets can generally be purchased for $5.00 each, not including supper. As a rule they are undertaken for the benefit of some charity or public fund.
Cards Of Dancing.—At such balls cards giving the order of dances are provided, on which gentlemen can write the names opposite the numbers of the dances, for which they have been accepted by the lady holding the card. In England such cards are used universally, but rarely at private balls in our country. At public balls square and round dances are danced, but no cotillons.
Fancy Balls.—In private houses these are conducted like other parties, the only difference being in the costumes of the guests, who are expected to personate some historical character, or one in fiction, etc.