Thank Goodness Bicycle Etiquette Is Not This Sexist Anymore

Why we don't have bicycling cowboys I'll never know. [Etiquette and bicycling, for 1896]

Why we don’t have bicycling cowboys I’ll never know. [Etiquette and bicycling, for 1896]

“Every advanced step toward a more perfect civilization requires some modification of the laws of society. Social intercourse varies under different conditions, but when an entirely new order of affairs presents itself a new code of etiquette is necessary. The question is naturally asked: Who is the authority for the establishment of social laws, and in the absence of precedent why is not one way just as good as another.”

This quote is attributed to something called Bearings, “the recognized authority on cycling matters,” as quoted in Etiquette and Bicycling, for 1896. It is the best summation about etiquette I think I’ve ever seen. Please apply this as you want, but today this is applied to the emergence of bicycling culture. In 1896, it was a total gamechanger, allowing people to travel through surrounding areas instead of staying in their towns, and emancipating women from “slavish conventionality in both dress and conduct.” Well, maybe not. Women were still “ladies,” and despite the ability to cycle about town, there were still a lot of rules to adhere to.

An unmarried cycling woman had to be chaperoned by a married woman, and married women had to be accompanied by their groom or another woman. Occasionally, married women trained had a “servant trained in the art” in order to adhere to this convention. And though women were reminded that “modesty is becoming at all times,” bloomers were acceptable.

Things were much different for experienced “wheelmen,” though the book admits that one of the draws of cycling was it was something men and women could do it together. It was therefore customary that men hold the handles as a woman mounts her bike, from the left with her right foot on the pedal. The book argues, “Let the new woman prate as much as she please about her independence of man, but she is the first nevertheless to rise up in indignation if any of the same old time chivalry is omitted.” Therefore, the author concludes, the man will do everything in his power to make the woman comfortable. This would be hilarious if I hadn’t met men who still think this way.

Men were still supposed to be hyper-aware of their female biking companions once riding, and women were pretty much expected to be complete idiots about the whole endeavor (“it is difficult for a man and almost impossible for a woman to ride without an instructor”). A man shouldn’t dare go ahead of a woman on a narrow road, or he may “get a long way ahead of his companion without knowing she was in distress.” He should ride on the left side of a woman so he could give his right arm in assistance, and the author makes a special point to say that all women deserve assistance, “handsome or otherwise.”

Okay, this is getting exhausting. How about some general ideas for bicycle etiquette? Social Etiquette, Or, Manners and Customs of Polite Society by Maud C. Cooke says that bikes are welcome in houses of worship, so “don’t absent yourself from church to go wheeling.” Also “don’t leave your bicycle in the lower hallway of your flat house,” which is absolutely applicable today. Pass on the right, and don’t speed down hills with curves at the bottom. However, she does advise “sweaters worn like a Chinaman’s blouse are almost indecent.” Whatever that means.

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Thank Goodness We Don’t Have to do that Anymore: Gift Giving

Rhett Butler shows he’s a cad by giving inappropriate gifts.

Obviously, people give each other gifts all the time, so this not truly “thank goodness we don’t have to do that anymore,” but there used to be a lot more RULES about these things that we don’t really have to follow anymore. These rules mainly pertain to gifts given by a man to an unmarried woman (because sexism! And maybe women weren’t really supposed to give gifts to men and this was so well known no one even had to write it down.)

Social Life (1896) by Maud Cook gives these rules about gifts to an unmarried woman:

  • The only acceptable gifts for a gentleman to give a lady are flowers, fruits, and candy (despite how expensive these items can be made to be). Since these are perishable items, they leave no obligation upon the lady.
  • However, if the lady and gentleman have been talking about a book or musical composition that she does not possess, he may offer to send her a copy and she may accept.
  • If inappropriate gifts are given, the lady may say “I thank you for the kindness but I never take expensive presents;” or, “Mamma never permits me to accept expensive presents.” Or her mother might discover the gift and send it back saying “I think my daughter rather young to accept such expensive gifts.”
  • After an engagement, the rules would slacken, but real, expensive, useful gifts were supposed to saved until after the wedding.

In the 1920 Etiquette, Emily Post gives a list of rules that an engaged couple must follow about gifts:

  • If the man is saving money so that they may get married, he shouldn’t waste his money sending flowers and other little gifts.
  • A woman may accept all presents except: wearing apparel, a car, a house, or furniture.
  • Basically, a man should not provide his future wife with any real useful objects until after they are married and it becomes his duty to take care of her. For example, a fur scarf would be a fine gift as it is a mere ornament, but a fur coat would not be because it is a useful piece of clothing.
  • If an engagement is broken, all gifts must be returned.

My 1954 copy of Etiquette For Young Moderns is unusual in that it has rules for the girl giving gifts to the boy:

  • For both genders, it is suggested that gifts not be too expensive or too personal.
  • Girls should be especially careful not to give a gift more expensive that what he is giving her AND she shouldn’t give the gift first.

In Sex and the Single Girl (1962), Helen Gurley Brown says: “Don’t give expensive presents to men. Madness!” And also highly encourages women to get expensive presents from men. She also thinks it’s fine to be someone’s mistress, so take all advice with a grain of salt.

In my 1967 copy of Amy Vanderbilt’s etiquette book her rules for unengaged people very strict:

  • A man’s gift to any girl (other than a relative) must be impersonal until an engagement is announced. The idea is to not imply intimacy or be so expensive that people talk about the girl.
  • Acceptable gifts: scarf, gloves, handkerchiefs, small things for the house such as a cocktail shaker or toaster (if she lives alone). Unacceptable gifts: dress, hat, underthings, stockings, or fur. Books are fine, but not a particularly expensive book or set of books.
  • A man who visits a woman’s home frequently might restock her liquor cabinet but would never insult her by trying to pay the grocery bill or anything.
  • If a girl receives an inappropriate gift she should return it to the giver and tell him “I know you didn’t realize it, but I couldn’t possibly accept such a gift from you, much as I appreciate your kindness in wanting to give it to me. A little present would be better.”
  • “To do anything that puts a girl in untenable position is to be less than a gentleman”

 

 

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have To Do That Anymore: Live at Women’s Hotels

Even Don Draper couldn’t get upstairs at The Barbizon.

Did you know that back in the day, some nice young ladies from good families wanted to come to New York City to work or try to be actresses or models but their parents were afraid for their virtue and their safety? Enter women only residential hotels like the famous Barbizon Hotel for Women.

The Barbizon was built in 1927 at 63rd and Lexington. Right away it became extremely popular for young women trying to make it in the big city. Over the years it housed such luminaries as: Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, Candace Bergen, Ali MacGraw, Cybill Shepard, Rita Hayworth, Liza Minelli, Sylvia Plath (who wrote about the thinly veiled fictional “Amazon Hotel” in The Bell Jar), Lauren Bacall, Betsey Johnson, and “Little Edie” Beale. Part of the appeal was that so many famous women had lived there. It was so popular that in it’s heyday, only about half of all applicants would actually be accepted.

The application process was actually very rigorous, as they only really wanted “nice” girls from “good” families.  You had to submit three letters of recommendation and would be assessed on your looks, dress, and demeanor (meaning did you look nice and have good manners).

Once you were in, you basically got a bright pink nun’s cell. Room were about 9 x 12 feet and outfitted with a single bed, an armless chair, a clothes rack, and a small desk. A very few rooms had a private bath, but most had to share a communal bath down the hall. However, all residents had access to the indoor pool, gymnasium, library, music studio, kitchen, dining room, squash and badminton courts, sundeck, and coffee shop. There was also complimentary afternoon tea every evening (a must for girls on tight budgets!). All this for $12 a week in 1947 and $28 a week in 1963 ($124 and $210 in today’s dollars, respectively). However, there were a lot of rules of conduct that you had to follow:

    • There was a dress code (I haven’t seen this specified anywhere, but one resident referred to always wearing heels and hose)
    • No men above the first floor
    • Parents could be called if you weren’t behaving
    • Parents could also require that their daughters sign in and out in the lobby
    • Liquor was forbidden
    • No electical appliances in bedrooms
    • No cooking in the bedrooms
    • There was no curfew, but the Gibbs Secretarial School did have one for their students who lived at the Barbizon

Presumably there were also a lot of etiquette rules to follow. I would assume that instead of phones in the rooms there were banks of phone booths somewhere, in which case residents wouldn’t want to hog the phone when others needed to use it. The same type of etiquette would go as in any communal living space- being quiet late at night, being quick in the shared showers, and keeping common areas clean. Interestingly, though the Barbizon was most famous for it’s younger residents, there were plenty of older women as well. These ladies were looked down upon by the young girls who felt that still being at the Barbizon after age 25 was a failure. But the older ladies had their own code of etiquette, chatting in their doorways instead of in their rooms and letting long term tenants do their own, eccentric thing. One older lady, in the 1960s, had been living at the Barbizon since the 1930s and was known to play the shared piano every afternoon.

Eventually, the 1960s came to an end and women no longer felt the need to live in such stuffy and cloistered housing. They were more likely to get apartments with roommates, and places like the Barbizon began to fade. In the 1980s, it was converted to a coed hotel, and then was changed and sold a few times, until it’s current iteration as the Barbizon 63, just a normal hotel (although, at least as of 2010, there were still 11 “Barbizon girls” living in the hotel under rent control laws!)

However, a handful of these types of women’s residences still exist such as The Webster Apartments, The Sacred Heart Residence, and the Jeanne D’Arc Residence. For about $1200 a month you get a small room and a variety of amenities (including, at The Webster, breakfast and dinner!). These residences are located in very desirable areas like Midtown and Chelsea, so their prices are actually pretty reasonable. They are usually not for profit organizations that exist to provide semi-temporary housing to students, interns, and women beginning their careers. It’s actually a pretty nice idea when you are just arriving in NYC and don’t really know about the real estate market and how to find a good deal (and you don’t have to commit to furniture and you can leave anytime!). Fortunately for modern women, these residences no longer have the very strict rules that you found at the Barbizon (except for the no men- that’s still very key to their mission statements).

Tell me, do you think you would have liked to live at the Barbizon? Like me, are you sad that you didn’t know that these women’s residences existed when you first moved to the Big City (and these were not just a NYC phenomenon, my mom lived in a similar arrangement in San Francisco in the late 1960s)? Did your mom/aunt/grandma live at the Barbizon and tell you lots of good stories? Let me know in the comments!!

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have to Do That Anymore: Beauty Mark Etiquette

Une Dame à sa Toilette by François Boucher shows a lady applying mouches

Moles are a really common human skin condition and people have found them attractive in certain configurations for centuries. Sometimes they have also attached meaning to certain placements of moles. Drawing them in has even been fashionable at times- Marilyn Monroe’s famous spot started a trend for them in the 1950s. But 18th century French aristocrats took it a step farther and glued fake spots on, in all kinds of Lucky Charms shapes, and assigned meanings to their placements.

In France, these spots were called Mouches or little flies (pretty obvious why!) and were made out of black silk, velvet, taffeta etc. They came in all kinds of shapes like circles, crescent moons, stars, and hearts (even quite elaborate shapes like horse-drawn carriages would sometimes appear!) and would be glued onto the face and décolletage (that’s the cleavagy region of the chest). In addition to their secret meanings, these little spots were also quite handy for covering up small pox scars! They would also draw attention to a certain particularly attractive feature of the face. The dark color in contrast to the skin also made the skin look paler, very much the in thing at the time. Men and women both wore them and could wear any from one to ten at a time!

Of course, all good fads need some material goods to go with them. So the French created fancy little “patch boxes” to keep their little face  stickers in. Made with tons of gold and jewels and miniature paintings, natch.

Some possible meanings for the placement of the spots:

Middle of forehead: dignified or imposing or grandeur

Corner of eye or eyelid: passionate

Middle of cheek: gallant

Cheekbone: risque

Heart-shaped (left cheek): engaged

Heart-shaped (right cheek): married

Between mouth and chin: silent

Corner of the eye: passion

On lower lip or on chin: discreet

Beside the mouth: likes to kiss

On nose: saucy or sassy

Near lip: flirtatious or seductive or even able to kill

On neck: generous

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have to Do That Anymore: Morganatic Marriages

So technically, some people still might have morganatic marriages but most of us don’t.

A morganatic marriage is basically a marriage between a man (usually) of higher rank who marries a woman of lower rank and does not pass any of his titles and privileges to his wife and any resulting children. The purpose being, to allow marriage for love when it otherwise wouldn’t be allowed while still preventing undesirable children from joining lines of succession.

Morganatic marriages were most popular in Germanic countries and Russia. Ghengis Khan also practiced polyamoric morgantic marriage, where only the children from his official wife were allowed to inherit while the children from his morganatic wives were not, though they were still legitimate. Morganatic marriage was never really practiced in the UK because there was no prohibition against marrying commoners in the first place. Edward VIII proposed a morganatic marriage with Wallis Simpson so as to marry her and remain king, however parliament did not approve and we all know how that ended.

Famous Morganatic Marriages:

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. Though she was an aristocrat, Sophie was not a member of a ruling royal family, she was not eligible as a royal wife. They ended up having 3 children and were assassinated in Sarajevo, an event that kicked off World War I.

Victor Emmanuelle II of Italy and his wife (and former favorite mistress) Rosa. The first king of united Italy had a proper royal marriage to Adelaide of Austria which gave him 8 children. After she died, he married his favorite mistress in a morganatic marriage.

Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma. After the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, his wife Marie Louise married morganatically TWICE, first to Count Adam Albert von Neipperg and then to Charles René de Bombelles (her chamberlain!)