When doing research for my historical fiction novel Shades of Gray, I was always intrigued by the rules of etiquette that were observed during the Civil War and Victorian era, and amazed at how far away from “polite society” we’ve moved. Here are a few examples of how gentlemen should behave at balls.
In the ballroom, ladies and gentlemen were on their best behavior. Manners were more formal, clothing was finer, and bows were deeper. Men were expected to be extremely active to make up for the total passivity required of ladies; who could not ask gentlemen to dance, and who could not even be seen to cross the dance floor unescorted. Ladies would be conveyed to their station by a gentleman, and there they would wait until another gentleman came to speak to them, ask them to dance or convey them to the punchbowl.
A man who knows how to dance, and refuses to do so, should absent himself from a ball.
Noisy talking and boisterous laughter in the ballroom are contrary to the rules of etiquette.
Always wear white gloves in a ballroom. Very light shades are admissible.
Usually a married couple does not dance together in society, but it is a sign of unusual attention for a husband to dance with his wife, and he may do so if he wishes.
Ladies and gentleman could not dance unless they had been introduced, so the hosts and escort spent much of the evening rushing about making introductions.