Hilariously outdated rules from Vogue’s 1948 Book of Etiquette
There are few things better than midcentury American etiquette manuals. If you think you’re a bit rough around the edges by today’s standards, prepare to feel even more indicted by society than you already do by taking in these hilariously old timey behavioral edicts from Vogue’s 1948 Book of Etiquette.
Firstly, it is the length of a Bible. Secondly, as expected, the strictures placed on women are far more rigid than those placed on men. I have no idea how women in the 1940s got anything done for fear of bringing shame on their houses. The casual prejudices against people from other countries was also jarring, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. Here are some gems:
“Those who are crippled, or in tears, or very shabbily dressed, or otherwise marked by misfortune, should at least be granted the dignity of privacy.”
How intuitive of Vogue to have the foresight to outline the rules of how to deal with me during a morning walk of shame. Don’t approach me unannounced on the train if I’m dressed like yesterday. Don’t reproach me for the sins of yesternight. I apparently deserve the dignity of privacy. Thanks, Vogue.
“Men’s manners, like their clothes, should be unobtrusive… but noticeably good manners, according to the Anglo-American standard, are almost unattractive in a man.”
Be nice, but not TOO NICE! Don’t make a spectacle of yourself with all of this opening of doors and covering of checks business. Be a dick once in a while so women still find you attractive.
“If girls could hear men discuss women & their ways, they would cling to convention like a limpet to its rock.”
I had to Google what a limpet was (it looks like a gross little barnacle, but that’s a delightfully dated simile and has officially been added to my personal lexicon), but I have a lot of male friends and I hear what they say. I fear no reproach!
In 1948, Vogue perpetuated the gentlest racism.
“In Latin countries, a great many more compliments are given than in other countries.” and ”In the United States, it is not customary for men to go into deep mourning as they do in Latin countries.”
As we ALL KNOW, men of Latin descent are often found crying in the streets. And it’s a miracle anything gets done for all the compliments being strewn about. We do not encourage such untoward behavior stateside, where everything is constantly couth…. *eyeroll*
“Whatever one’s personal feelings may be, the whole approach of modern social usage to the question of divorce and separation is based on the acceptance of this truth: that divorce is a public confession of failure, and so it is the height of bad taste to celebrate it with ‘freedom parties’ or any other kind of jubilation.”
I guess that rules out burning your former beloved in effigy and eating penis-shaped cakes, huh?
“A man should always offer a woman a cigarette when he takes one himself…. But if she has refused by saying only ‘Not just now, thank you,’ he must repeat the offer every time he decides to have a cigarette himself.”
And this cyclical behavior should continue until one of three things happens. 1- the two of you get trapped in a time warp, forced to forever repeat the most insipid pleasantries for eternity. 2- she dies of second hand smoke inhalation. 3- you consummate your carcinogenic courtship and are wed.
“No guest or member of the family, except a very small child, should ever be introduced to employees. ‘This is my husband, Norah,’ or ‘This is my daughter, Miss Rosalie, Hardy,’ is impossibly wrong. … After such an introduction, it is not customary to shake hands.”
Should a member of the household condescend to touching an employee, the employee must immediately have the touched extremity lobbed off. The family member should be purified in the waters of Lake Minnetonka and repent for being thus sullied.
“Deference toward older women is a point of good behavior… Women rise when an older woman enters the room, unless there are more than ten or twelve people present.”
If the older woman enters the room suddenly or has overtaken you at a jaunty clip, don’t take any chances. You have no time to count the people in the room. Just jump in the air and hover until she herself is seated. This is a better-safe-than-sorry precaution. No time to eyeball it. You’re not Rain Man.
Not a fan of self-promotion, Vogue? Because this reads like stuff drummed up from an old timey buzzword bullshit generator. And it’s great to know that human nature hasn’t changed in 65 years. We’re still fameballs!
“If a stranger seems to be trying to start an unwelcome conversation, one can, still with politeness but with increasing firmness, refuse to converse. But it is more attractive to take for granted that the gesture was motivated by kindness.”
Right. I care to appear attractive to guys yelling “WHY YOU BEING STUCK UP, BRAIDS! Hey, braids! I’m talking to you, braids!” And I’m sure the guy asking me if his hanky smells like chloroform is juuuuust trying to inoculate me against future attacks.
“It is not difficult for an older woman to accept the fact that she is not the universal ideal of a dancing partner, but it is not at all easy for young girls. When the situation seems completely out of hand, when there are no friends sitting in groups and no boys anywhere in sight and everyone else is dancing gaily, the best thing to do is go home.”
OH! My nightmare! Firstly, sit down old crone. You’re freaking everyone out with your geriatric gyrations. Secondly, no fug bugs allowed at the bar. Duh. If no one wants to dance with you and you’re too ugly to have friends, but still have to but up with pesky FEELINGS, stay indoors where you belong. Simple!
For all its missteps, Vogue injects a dash of self-awareness from time to time: “We are not here discussing questions of morals or conscience. It is perfectly possible, of course, to live in the most impeccable morality under almost any conditions, no matter how unconventional they may seem. It is equally possible to live in utter depravity within an apparently flawless shell of convention.” Preach, Vogue! Preach. Also, stay on the look out for gentleman bandits.
And of course, there’s this picture which shows an angry diner and the long-suffering waitress who is being forced to display the diner’s food inches above the table.
There’s a reason why everyone who ever followed these rules, most of which I find specious at best, is long dead. Also, it’s because of how time works.