There are few places in life where you really need to worry about how you come off, and one of those instances is plain ol’ walking around. As long as you don’t bump into people or disrupt sidewalk traffic, who could possibly judge you? People who wrote etiquette books in 1893, that’s who.
In Etiquette of Good Society, Lady Gertrude Elizabeth Campbell has a whole section dedicated to walking, writing that “servants can be distinguished by the short abrupt steps they take, so doubtless a true lady can be discovered by her manner of walking.” This does not bode well for me. She goes on to quote a Frenchman who wrote about walking in the 13th century:
“Do not trot or run, and as you walk look straight before you with eyelid slow and fixed, looking forward to the ground at five toises (thirty feet) before you not looking at or turning your eyes to man or woman who may be to your right or left, nor looking upwards, nor changing your look from one place to another, nor laughing, nor stopping to speak to anybody.”
Lady Campbell expands on that notion, saying for women “let her step be firm and her gait steady, let her not walk in too great a hurry, nor yet drag slowly along. Let her arms move with the natural motion of the body, they must neither swing to and fro nor dangle by the side.” You know, just act natural. You know how easy that is once you start thinking about it? Right. Moving on.
“A man’s walk should differ from a woman’s,” explains Lady Campbell, “in that he should take a longer step, but steadiness of carriage and firmness of tread are as necessary in the one as in the other. Horace Walpole is described as always entering a room with knees bent and feet on tiptoe as if afraid of a wet floor, but we are told that this affected style was quite a la mode in his day.” Men: bring back the Horace Walpole.
If worrying about the way your body looked while you walked wasn’t enough, you also had to worry about what to do when you encountered other walking people. Here are a few tips from American Etiquette and Rules of Politeness by Walter Raleigh Houghton:
- “Do not try to ‘show yourself off’ upon the streets. The true secret of street deportment is to do so as nearly as other people do.” [STREET DEPORTMENT???]
- “No one, while walking in the streets, should fail, either through carelessness or willful neglect, to recognize acquaintances.”
- “Persons walking together on the street should keep step.” [Still accurate]
- “A gentleman walking with a lady may take either side of the walk, but he will always give her the preferred side or that on which she will be least exposed to crowding, usually the side toward the wall.”
- “Look in the way you are going both to avoid collisions and because it is bad manners to stare in any other direction. If you chance to see an acquaintance at a window you should bow but by all means do not stare into houses. Avoid looking full into the faces of strangers whom you meet especially of ladies.” [Did this really need to be said?]
- “No gentleman is ever guilty of standing in public places and offensively gazing at ladies as they pass.”
So go walk freely and un-self-consciously!