Etiquette Advice From The Past That’s Truly Stranger Than Fiction

Etiquette Advice From The Past That

While there are many social norms we still abide by in the modern age, most of us don’t spend too much time thinking about the ins and outs of etiquette, but the same can not be said about generations from the past. From strange eating rules to unusual grooming habits, how people upheld societal niceties in the past are a far cry from today’s standards. The most bizarre etiquette rules from the last century are making people thankful we live in the new millennium.


Before the turn of the twentieth century women had very strict rules regarding their hair. They were expected to wear it up on all occasions or else risk seeming unladylike. That is, unless they were in the bedroom.

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In this decade women were allowed to give gifts to their husbands, with several important caveats: Wives could only give presents after receiving one, and what they presented in return had to be either cheap, homemade, or both.

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No Direct Questions

Also during this time period, direct questions were heavily frowned upon. Instead of asking, for example, “How are you doing?,” the socially correct greeting would be to say, “I hope you are doing well.” Classy!

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Parents back then had some weird ideas about child-rearing. Specifically, the dominant philosophy was that mothers and fathers should refrain entirely from playing with their babies until they were at least six months old — so they didn’t get spoiled, of course.

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Keeping Thoughts Clean

In Victorian times — and on through the early 20th century — people believed “impure” thoughts were the reason for babies getting sick. Pregnant women in particular were expected to keep their minds out of the gutter.

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In this year in particular, attending weddings was more akin to entering a concert, as guests had to be in possession of an admittance ticket to be let in. This was especially true for ceremonies taking place in big cities.

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It’s hard to think of a period in history when pregnant women weren’t infantilized, but in the 1930s, they weren’t even allowed to travel! Like, at all. They couldn’t ride in the back seat of a car.

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Love You, Mom!

One 1938 issue of magazine Madomoiselle had a handy bit of advice for college women seeking suitors: have your mom send you some flowers to trick all the boys into thinking they have competition. Sad! But also smart.

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Although decades earlier women had to keep their luscious locks all buttoned up, by the time the ’40s swung around, they were expected to brush their locks with one hundred strokes every night until their “scalp tingled.” Anything to get that “shining halo.”

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Non-Prime “Material”

Women who drank were not considered prime wife material. “She can certainly hold her liquor is not a compliment,” Vogue‘s Book of Etiquette wisely advised. This was better than the 1880’s, when they were only permitted one glass of champagne!

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Family Manners

Family dinners can be a fun time of familial bonding — that is, if you make sure to follow the rules. Salt and pepper must be passed together, as God intended. Grandpa asked for just the salt? Too bad, he’s getting a package deal.

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Friendly Phone Convo

Another ’40s-era nicety was that you were always expected to smile while talking on the phone. This was a relatively new form of communication at the time, so maybe they just didn’t understand people couldn’t see you.

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In the era of TV dinners, people still found time to make very specific rules about consuming vegetables. According to one guide, asparagus must be cut in half in order to avoid “the ungraceful appearance of a bent stalk…falling limply into someone’s mouth.”

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Bite-Sized Salads

But the dining habits didn’t stop there. People were also expected to cut their salads. Confused? Here’s some helpful advice: “Try first to cut your salad with your fork. If you find it difficult, calmly pick up your knife and use it.”

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“Chivalry” was alive and well in the ’50s, and therefore men were always expected to escort women on their left. It dated from medieval times, when the custom allowed them to carry their swords in the free right hand. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

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As we all know, etiquette extends to children as well as adults. During the ’60s parents sent their daughters to charm schools where they took classes such as “Exercise/Diet, Voice/Speech, Modeling, Skin Care/Grooming, Make-up, [and] Fashion.”

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Everyone’s A Smoker

Way before vaping became a hot button topic, literally everybody smoked cigarettes. In fact, a man was expected to carry smokes on him at all times, and if a woman lit one up, he was supposed to follow suit. It’s the gentlemanly thing to do.

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60s Icons

The willowy model look was very much in during this decade, and for pictures, this meant never letting your hands fall straight at your sides less they obscure any part of your streamlined physique.

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Lead With The Right

Also during the ’60s, hands had their own set of requirements; the right was social, while the left was personal. That meant you should both cough and hold drinks in the latter, so as to keep the right hand free for socializing.


Stepping Into The Dark

Usually the old adage goes, “Ladies first,” but there was one crucial exception to the rule. If the room was dark, a man entered first so as to protect his woman against any would-be threats.



As Second Wave Feminism rose to prominence, gender roles began to shift. By the ’70s, men and women on dates were supposed to discuss the dinner bill before it arrived. That way, the woman could contribute — if she could afford to.

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By the time the ’80s rolled around, cellphones were just starting to infiltrate the population. This caused a division over whether it was proper to answer a call in the shower. According to the New York Times, the answer is a resounding no.

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Electronically Yours

Also coming into mass popularity at the time were computers. Rather than “Best Regards” or a simple “Thanks,” the standard email sign-off at the time was the weirdly robotic: “Electronically Yours.”

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Color Meaning

Sending flowers has always been a thing, but in the ’80s, it became particularly important what color said flowers were. Red for lovers, white for grief, and the list goes on.

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Etiquette Lives On!

Etiquette of the past is strange to modern eyes, but let’s not pretend we don’t still follow our own. We go crazy for etiquette the second we step into restaurants, often learning we’re math whizzes when it comes to tipping law. There’s a lot of restaurant courtesies we follow.

2. Don’t Stack Your Plates

You might think you’re helping your server by stacking all of your dirty dishes in one pile, but this often screws up whatever system they have for clearing the table. Just sit back, take a sip of your drink, and let them do their job.

3. Don’t Change Your Dish

The dishes on the menu are cooked that way for a specific reason. Sure, asking for a vegetarian option is fine, but when you start making multiple substitutions, you’re changing carefully-constructed flavor profiles, and ultimately, the entire meal.

4. Keep The Splits Simple

Servers have no problem splitting the bill for people when it comes time to pay. However, if it’s not an even split and guests start calculating odd amounts based on how much they ate, it becomes a mathematical nightmare.

5. Taste Before Asking For Salt

Chefs hate when a customer asks for salt before they even try a dish. Lots of thought goes into seasoning food, and it’s a slap in the face when someone immediately assumes it’s not up to their liking.

6. Look Your Server In The Eye

Isn’t it uncomfortable when you’re trying to chat with someone and they refuse to look you in the eye? Well, it’s equally as uncomfortable for servers when they’re taking your order and you won’t even glance up from the menu.

7. Put Away Your Phone When Ordering

One of the most annoying things a server deals with is the lack of attention they get due to cell phone usage. Everyone is so absorbed in social media and texting they ignore the fact someone is trying to take their orders.

8. Know Your Kids

Bringing children into a restaurant is fine so long as they know how to behave. Just because you’re enjoying a cocktail with your friends doesn’t mean the waitstaff needs to assume the role of babysitter. Leave rambunctious kids at home, plain and simple.

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9. Don’t Yell

Shouting at anyone is just plain rude, and deciding the quickest way to get your meal is to raise your voice and berate the person who’s taking care of it is completely unacceptable. Check your lack of manners at the door.

10. Don’t Snap

Just because a server is taking your order and delivering your food doesn’t mean they’re your servant. Trying to grab a server’s attention by snapping your fingers is a sure-fire way to wait longer for whatever you need.

11. Closed Means Closed

Servers, just like anyone else who has a job, want to get home to their families and friends after their shifts are over. Hanging around a restaurant chatting after they close up shows blatant disrespect for the employees’ time.

12. Clean Up After Your Kids

If you’re bringing along children to eat, make sure they don’t leave the table looking like a war zone when the meal is finished. You might walk out satisfied, but now someone has to spend time cleaning up your disaster.

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13. No Reservations, No Griping

If you show up to a restaurant during its breakfast, lunch, or dinner rush without a reservation, don’t complain if the host seats you at a table you don’t like. When it’s that busy, you’ll be put wherever there’s “technically” room.

14. Make Room

A server’s job is to deliver everyone’s meal quickly and efficiently, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give them a hand along the way. If the table is crowded, refusing to help them clear any room is just plain rude.

15. Don’t Order Things That Aren’t On The Menu

Items on menus change all the time; maybe they weren’t selling enough, or they could have been using seasonal ingredients. Either way, they’re off the menu for a specific reason, so asking for them doesn’t make any sense.

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16. Pay Out Your Bartender

Sometimes before you’re seated it’s nice to have a drink at the bar. If you end up ordering something, don’t leave while the bartender is making your drink and retreat to a table without saying anything. It’s a huge waste of their time.

17. Help Servers Limit Table Visits

Try to think of everything you might need at once in order to limit the trips a server needs to make to the table. Sure, asking for something like pepper is fine, but making them return to the table multiple times for one single request is frustrating.

18. Don’t Assume Your Server Wants To Date You

Servers treat their guests with respect because they want them to have a pleasant meal. Just because they’re nice to you doesn’t mean they’re interested romantically and want your number at the end of the meal.

19. Make Up Your Mind

Before you call your server over to take an order, make sure you actually are ready to order. Servers have other tables and standing around while you look over the menu for the fourth time cuts into the time they could spend somewhere else.

20. Think Before You Complain

Always try to put yourself in the shoes of your server before you launch a minor complaint. Many of them have been working for hours before you arrived, and they’ve probably dealt with a handful of frustrating things already.