What Is a Linen Press?

You might know a linen press as a piece of furniture used to store linens, but did you know that there is an alternate meaning of this phrase? From the medieval period up until the 19th century, linen presses (also called napkin presses) were actual presses that were used to flatten cloth, sometimes give it a nice sheen, and interestingly, to create purposeful creases in the cloth. It was also used for storage- many books of household management reference getting tablecloths out of the napkin press and putting them back in when the meal was over. These were so common, they are mentioned in household lists of furniture and guides for housewives without any explanation of what they are for or how to use them other than that they are helpful to keep tablecloths and napkins neat.

They worked like any kind of press- you put the linen in between two boards and then tightened it down with a screw mechanism. So, kind of ironing by pressure instead of heat. Speaking of irons, though, did you know you can buy giant irons that you feed tablecloths and sheets and things through (if you want them smooth and not with purposeful creases)? I found that out recently and I want one so badly because I am a wack who loves ironed sheets, but alas, I cannot fit a monster appliance like that in my Brooklyn apartment. Someday though.



Can Etiquette Be Humorous?

Etiquette is often thought (incorrectly) to be classism disguised as manners, so it can actually be quite funny when someone uses hyperbolic classism as etiquette.

At least I hope that is what William Hanson is doing.

Once billed as the UK’s youngest etiquette expert, William Hanson is a regular columnist at the Daily Mail (I knoooow, and what’s even worse, it’s in the woman’s interest section called “femail”- like female but spelled like “mail” for the Daily Mail. I cannot.), the author of A Bluffer’s Guide to Etiquette, a popular etiquette commentator for various TV programs, and a tutor for the etiquette consultancy company, The English Manner (presumably another pun on English Manor, as in fancy house where polite people live?). While his book and personal appearances are serious (though funny and engaging), his Daily Mail columns are HILARIOUS when read as a satire of the British class system and how it relates to etiquette (though horrifying if taken seriously, as many of the commentors seem to.)

For example:

  • How Common Is Your Breakfast?:
    • “The middle classes today are obsessed with health foods to start their days. Protein this, good fats that. All rather boring and faddy for the uppers to worry about.
    • They’ve survived this far without chia seeds, thank you, and will somehow manage to carry on the lineage in their absence.”
    • “Do I even have to spell it out what a McMuffin says about your life choices and standards? I severely hope not. Being seen walking down a street with a takeaway cup of coffee is also a fast-track ticket for entry into society hell.”
  • What Does YOUR Home Say About Your Social Class?:
    • “I have written before that there are few worse accusations one can level against someone than that they own, or aspire to own, a hot tub.”
    • “The size of a house’s main television is pretty much the acid test in social class. The bigger the television the more downmarket the establishment.”
    • “Mirrored furniture is not only redolent of the lower echelons of the premier league but stunningly impractical…Oak or mahogany furniture, slightly chipped or worn in places, is far smarter and carries more cachet.”
  • The 12 Silent Ways Everyone Is Judging Your Social Class:
    • “It’s not just how we shake hands but what we say to accompany it. The upper classes will all say ‘how do you do’, which is rhetorical. ‘Pleased/nice to meet you’ is the definition of de trop.”
    • “This is now pandemic at black tie events: men turning up (often the ones with ready-made bow ties) and the moment they reach their seat, whipping off the jacket and sticking it on the back. So vulgar!”
  • How Posh Is YOUR Bedroom?:
    • “Bed linens are cotton, linen or a blend of both. Silk and satin sheets are the reserve of haggard, ageing ungentlemanly playboys. Linens are often white, or off white. Floral bedding is acceptable if you’re thatched. Black, deep purple or maroon sheets are to be left in the shop. Or ideally burned.”
    • “One way to make sure your bedroom is up there with the hoity-toity is to display a beaten up teddy bear, stuffed with memories of the nursery.”
    • “Upon rising, it is important to change and dress for breakfast if you wish to frolic both outside and inside the sheets with the PLU set [People Like Us -Ed.]. Eating kippers in your pyjamas is not on.”
    • “The best houses are big houses. Big, rattling and totally impractical. Therefore, they are cold. Especially now as impoverished aristos and gentry struggle to keep the central heating running at all – unless they sellout to costume dramas. Cold? Pop an extra dog on the bed rather than reach for the radiator. Cheaper and warmer, by far. Très chic!”

He also has a wonderful Twitter.

So what do you all think? Satire or serious? It has to be satire, right?


What Is a Chatelaine?

A chatelaine is like a really fancy, old timey keychain or Swiss Army knife mixed with a charm bracelet- it’s got a little of everything in a pretty package. Though they were around much longer, the term wasn’t coined as “chatelaine” until 1828.

Women traditionally wore it either around their waist or pinned to a belt or something at the waist and was meant to carry around all manner of useful objects to help with household tasks. It might have things like scissors, a little notebook, keys, seals, tweezers, etc. During many periods, these items were very valuable as well as useful, so it was good to keep them on one’s person so they would not be lost. During the period that chatelaines were popular, most women’s clothing didn’t have pockets and they didn’t really carry bags, so the chatelaine was a substitute.

It could also refer simply to the keys to the house. In many times and households where servants were common, much of the supplies and goods were kept locked up to prevent theft. Household silver and jewelry, obviously, but also pantries and linen closets, so having the keys to all of these was the task of the mistress of the house and the servants would have to go to her to have her unlock things so they could get supplies. Having the keys to a household was a powerful thing- and often little girls would copy their mothers by carrying “chatelaines” around that were much more like charm bracelets than any real use.

Chatelaines could be very plain or completely covered in diamonds, other jewels, and fine metals. They could also be specialized to a trade (like nursing- with thermometers, bandages, and such) or a hobby.

Of course, like everything, they could get so ridiculous that they were mocked in cartoons, like this one from a 19th century Punch magazine:


There is a book about chatelaines, apparently, if you are interested.

What Do You Say Dear?

I recently acquired a copy of a 1958 children’s etiquette book called What Do You Say Dear by Sesyle Joslin and illustrated by Maurice Sendak (who did Where the Wild Things Are, if you didn’t know). And it is GREAT!

It gives really fun situations as examples to children of what polite thing to say:

You are flying around in your airplane and you remember that the Duchess said, “Do drop in for tea sometime.”

So you do, only it makes a rather large hole in her roof.

What do you say dear?

“I’m sorry”

And of course the illustrations are great:



Apparently it was part of a series of similar books about etiquette for kids, which is lovely. I feel like these kinds of lessons in a fun book really stick with kids and it’s a shame they are out of print. But I thought it would be fun to show everyone and then you can all track it down for your own kids if you want!