Today’s dating rituals are pretty straight forward. You see someone you like, you find out their name, stalk them on social media, get a mutual friend to introduce you and after a couple of dates you ask them out. But it hasn’t always been this easy. We are talking about a time when ballroom dances were a social gathering, when girls went to school to learn to be good wives, where marriage was a business deal and dowry was your ticket to a better life.
It’s what Julia Stiles books are made of, Victorian romances that grip your attention and make you imagine what it would be like, to fall in love at a time like that.
Well here’s a sneak peak into courtship during the Victorian Era,
Freshly schooled 15 year olds join the Marriage Mart
Once the girls had been taught how to ride side saddle, prepare tea, understand table arrangements for aristocracy, throw a ball, sew a button and be an amazing wife to their future hardworking husbands, they set out to find said husbands. The girls of high rank families were dressed in their finest gowns with elaborate bouquets and presented to the queen. This ceremony was called a ‘Coming Out’, basically it was a formal introduction of these young débutantes to society. This is when they were allowed to attend balls and social gatherings which usually took place during ‘Season’, which was what the 3 months of husband-wife hunting was called in London.
Spot a Hottie across the Ball Room
Say, you see this unbelievably hot person across the room, you couldn’t just walk over and say ‘How you doing?’ . The girls were always accompanied by an older female from their family, who was called a Chaperone. Their job was to make sure nothing inappropriate, like intense gazing, was indulged in. So how would you signal hot boy? Well this is where they whipped out their weapon, a hand fan. The rules of the hand fan are simple, fan fast to signal you’re singledom, rest the fan on your right cheek to show you’re interested in him. However also keep in mind that when you keep your hand fan completely open it signals love, a fan slightly open is friendship and lastly a closed fan signals hate. Make sure you fan in the right direction though.
One does not simply approach in Victorian Courtship, he has to be introduced by a family member/someone of equal or higher rank. And then finally you get a chance to write your name on her dance card. You can’t dance with her more than once during one ball, since it is considered inappropriate.
Becoming a Suitor
Once you’ve singled the girl of your dreams you need to qualify as a suitor. How does one do that? You must be of equal or higher rank, must be able to provide for her, must have a good social standing and you need to check out her situation as well. But most importantly you must be from a wealthy and respectable family in Society. If everything checks out, you ‘call’ on her. You drop a card or a letter to her residence, requesting to drop in for tea with her family or you invite her guardian/parents to join your family for a walk.
Now is the fun part, you get to stroll, ride in a park with the love of your life and her mom/grandmom/aunt/or the likes. Much privacy, such fun. You can go the opera with her and her family. You can meet her for tea with only one chaperone. If you need to have a private conversation with her, carry a 6 foot long tube(it’s an actual thing), to whisper sweet nothings into her ear .
If all is well in lovers paradise, you need to propose or it would be ungentlemanly of you. Everything had to go by the code of Chivalry. So it’s the time when the guy has to ask for the girl’s hand in marriage to her father. As soon as he permits, there is an engagement party that ensues. Now that you’re engaged, you have the privilege of being a little more cosy. you can visit without a chaperone as long as you leave before nightfall, hold hands, steal kisses and be as poetic with sonnets and poems as you like. Unleash your inner Shakespeare.
And now, you live happily ever after, with lots of dowry.