60+ Vintage Etiquette Tips From the Past That Sound Totally Crazy

By Camila

on Wed Jul 15 2020

A lot has changed over the years, particularly when it comes to proper social etiquette. In fact, if you do some digging online, you’ll find that the things we do today would have made us completely uncivilized savages a hundred years ago or even just a few decades back. Some of these vintage etiquette rules from long ago were definitely bonkers, but there are a few that should definitely make a comeback!

Being Too Playful With Newborns Was Considered Bad Parenting


Around 1910, baby experts told parents that being too playful with their newborns was the equivalent of spoiling them. So it was recommended that fathers and mothers avoid playing with them, (or at least cut down on it) and left them in their cribs as much as possible until they were four or six months old.

It Was Unladylike to Get Hammered


According to Vogue’s 1948 Book of Etiquette, women getting drunk after having a couple of drinks was considered pretty vulgar in the mid 20th century. “She can certainly hold her liquor is not a compliment,” was the general advice written in the book. Our ancestors would clutch their pearls in disbelief if they could travel to the future and see that bars are full of women and men equally chugging down more than a few beers!

You Had to Wait for a Formal Introduction

When you entered an elite club or showed up to a business meeting, you had to wait for somebody else to formally introduce you before you started mingling. You couldn’t just walk up to a group of people and introduce yourself as that would’ve been considered rude. Of course, this practice is outdated nowadays and anyone adhering to this rule today would probably be considered as “too polite” or “old fashioned.”

You Had to Smile While Talking on the Phone

Francie Gumm Starstruck

In the 1940s, people had to put on a smile while talking on the phone because it was considered proper phone etiquette. Also, people had to avoid using phrases like “What do you want?” and “Who is it?” as they were extra polite. Sure, you couldn’t hear a smile over the phone but you could definitely feel the positivity in their voice.

You Couldn’t Have Impure Thoughts


In 1910, pregnant women were made to believe that having impure thoughts, (like having unwanted thoughts, ugly ideas, or desiring another man, or basically, anything that made you a normal and flawed human being) was the reason why babies got sick and had colic and other illnesses. Unsurprisingly, this belief that was pretty common during the Victorian era as well.

Women Kept Their Hands on Their Laps

Unsplash Austrian National Library

Women who wanted to be seen as polite and educated had to keep their hands on their laps or under the table during a meal. This was often seen as a very elegant gesture. But now, people are expected to keep their elbows off the table, especially in some cultures. But the most polite gesture anyone can have in today’s modern world is ignoring or completely turning off their smartphones.

Men Had to Order a Woman’s Meal


In the 1950s, it was uncommon for women to order their own food at a restaurant. In fact, men were expected to order a woman’s food in public. And while some would have considered this chivalrous, others would say it was a bit too controlling. Can you imagine ordering a salad for your Tinder date at a restaurant? We can’t imagine that working all too well, huh?

You Had to Brush Your Hair 100 Times


In the 1944 etiquette book, Future Perfect: A Guide to Personality and Popularity for the Junior Miss, experts recommended brushing your hair at least 100 times before going to bed to keep your hair shiny and flowy. As a matter of fact, it was recommended that women should keep brushing and brushing “until your scalp tingles,” which sounds honestly horrifying. Nowadays, hair stylists recommend brushing the hair as little as possible to avoid damaging it.

Good Wives Shouldn’t Bother Their Husbands With Petty Issues

Reddit / Life2021

In the 1950s, women were encouraged to never bother their husbands with petty troubles when they came home after a hard day’s work. A good wife was expected to be there for him and listen to him talk about his day. And as far as a wife’s troubles were concerned, well, those were  petty or irrelevant issues they should sort on their own. Rough, huh?

You Always Had to Have a Cigarette in Hand


Everyone lit up a cigarette in the 1960s, so smoking inside bars and cafes was the norm. And if a woman lit one up, a man was supposed to start smoking too, as it was the courteous thing to do. Men were also expected to carry cigarettes with them wherever they went even if they didn’t smoke. At the time, it was considered a very gentlemanly gesture. My, how times have changed!

In the 60s, Coughing or Sneezing Into Your Right Hand Was Impolite


In the 1960s, the right hand was always used for social purposes such as a patting someone on the back or shaking someone’s hand. But if you needed to cover your mouth to cough, sneeze, or to hold a drink, you had to use your left hand so you wouldn’t be rubbing all your germs every time you touched someone. This should definitely make a comeback!

Don’t Use Meaningless Exclamatory Expressions

Reddit Paul / Belgium

No one would bat an eyelash in today’s world if they heard someone say something like “Oh my Gosh!” But in the 19th century, one had to choose their words very carefully. It was considered in bad taste to add meaningless exclamations to their conversations such as “Oh, my!” or “Oh, dear!”

Women Were Encouraged to Ignore Their Husbands When They Strayed


The Victorian era wasn’t any kinder to women, even if they had good reason to kick their men to the curb. If a Victorian woman learned that her husband was seeing other women, she had to be very discreet. Back in those days, society thought it was natural for a man to look for a younger version of the woman they married before she gave birth to his children. So wives were encouraged to take comfort in knowing that she was the one he came home to.

Tea and Coffee Could Make Women Frigid


In the 1920s, people believed that drinking too much tea and coffee made women frigid due to the harmful side effects these two drinks had on a woman’s reproductive system. So, husbands had to forbid women from consuming these products to avoid a frigid and flatulent wife. In fact, Bernarr Macfadden wrote in the tome, Womanhood and Marriage that if husbands didn’t want a flatulent and frigid woman by their side, they should prevent them from drinking coffee and tea.


“Drinking of tea and coffee in unlimited quantities on the part of women probably has a great deal to do with what is called frigidity in women due to the health-destroying effects on the reproductive system,” read an excerpt from Macfadden’s book. Ah! If only science were that simple!

Moms Had to Give Their Daughters “The Talk” on Their Wedding Day


In Victorian times, waiting until the wedding night to be intimate with your husband was the norm. But since the bride had no idea what to expect, they relied on their mothers to prepare them for what was to come. In fact, a mother was seen as cruel if she didn’t give her daughter the heads up on what to expect on her wedding night because it would leave the bride traumatized.

Using Puns in Conversation Was Tacky

Reddit / RckLbstr

Are you a sucker for puns? Well, you probably would’ve had a hard time making friends back in 1918. In fact, back in that era, people didn’t consider puns to be funny at all. If anything, they were seen as one of the most vulgar things people could use in conversation. So, if a creative wordplay popped into your head, you had to learn to keep it to yourself or you would most likely end up not being invited to the next social gathering.

Baby Showers Were for Women Only


If you go back as far as ten years ago, you’ll find that baby showers were traditionally considered an experience that only women and their family members and friends got to experience when celebrating a pregnancy. But these days, more men are adopting this tradition as they take on a more active role as fathers. Now, it’s a family event everyone gets to enjoy!

Hosts Had to Be Tactful, And That Meant You Couldn’t Talk About Things Only You Enjoyed


In 1895, Lady Constance Howard wrote Etiquette of Dinners where she suggested that hosts should avoid discussing art and music with anyone who wasn’t into those subjects, too. But can you imagine how boring our social gatherings would be if we only invited people who liked the exact same things we do?

Keep Your Husband Well Fed to Avoid Petty Fights

Reddit / HellsJuggernaut

Back in the glorious 50s, self-respecting wives had to have a decent homemade dinner ready by the time their husband came home from work. That meant that making a canned meal was a major faux pas. To top it off, women were taught that bad cooking let to irritability and grouchiness which led to fighting either at home or when the husband stormed out of the house and went to a bar to vent.

Thank You Notes Had to be Handwritten


If you wanted to send a thank-you note to someone who had given you a gift of paid you a visit, it had to be handwritten. This showed that you actually took the time to write out a lovely message and didn’t just purchase a card at the local store. But these days, most people find that a text message or an e-mail will work just fine.

In Victorian Times, Women Had to Downplay Their Skills


In the Victorian era, women who had a special talent like writing poetry, painting, or had amazing singing voice, had to made sure to keep those traits hidden. In those days, having a talent that allowed a woman to make a living made a husband look like he was utterly incompetent when it came to providing for his family.

You Had to Be Very Polite When Refusing a Date

Reddit / Life2021

Decades ago, it was considered really impolite to refuse a date without a good explanation or a little white lie. It wasn’t that women couldn’t say no if they were asked out on a date, they just had to refuse in a politely way by saying something like, “thank you, but I’m busy that evening.” Piling onto the explanation wasn’t recommended either mainly because the bigger the excuse was, the bigger the lie.

Women Had to Act Awkward to Boost Men’s Confidence


In the 1980s, women were expected to be dainty and a tad awkward so that guys would feel manlier and more in control. They felt protective and useful when they walked over to a woman who acted all coy and shy. As a matter of fact, women had to make sure that they didn’t make any aggressive gestures that would threaten to crumble their man’s illusion of masculinity.

There’s even a famous manual that encouraged girls to keep their confidence under lock and key. The 1984 manual, How to Be Popular With Boys, lay down the rules pretty clearly. Stacy Rubis explained that acting shy and coy allowed guys to “feel more in control, more manly. And at the same time they get more protective toward shy, trembling you.”

The Bride’s Family Paid for the Wedding

Flickr Vintage Bride Magazine

Back in the day, it was the bride’s family who had to fork over a ton of cash to pay for that fancy wedding dress and the food for the party. But in today’s world, it’s the bride and groom who will save up money so they can plan and throw the dream wedding they want. If family members want to pitch in, they send money to the couple or give them an envelop with a check as a present.

A Man Had to Stand When a Woman Was Sitting Down


At a party, it was considered respectful and chivalrous for a man to stand up when a woman entered a room or was preparing to take a seat at the table. And although some people still see this as a sign of respect, a lot of women prefer to be treated as equals to their male counterparts. This one isn’t so crazy, right? Who doesn’t like feeling appreciated when you enter a room?

Men Should Enter a Dark Room First

Tube Follow

Even though society still encouraged ladies to always go first in the 60s, men had to be the ones who entered a dark room first. This was done so that if there was some kind of intruder inside the house or apartment, the man could protect his date or his wife with his life if necessary. Given the imbalance of power between women and men, this one seems like pretty sound advice.

Eat as Quietly as Possible


Proper dining etiquette in the 50s was pretty much the total opposite of what we’re been raised to do today when eating at a restaurant or at a friend’s house. In a 1947 video by Emily Post, titled “Table Manners” it was recommended that people should refrain from talking at all while dining, and they should also avoid drinking too.

Wives Had to Look Attractive But Not “Too Attractive”


A Victorian wife was expected to look attractive and well put-together for her husband. But she couldn’t wear too much makeup. Doing so would humiliate her husband because his wife would look like she was easy. So, makeup was strongly discouraged for wives. The hottest makeup trend of that era was pale skin without imperfections, flushed cheeks, and rosy lips.

You Couldn’t Wear Bright Plaids and Floral Prints After Summer


Men had to avoid wearing madras plaids and women couldn’t wear brightly colored floral printed clothing after summer. This old vintage rule came into existence thanks to fashion gurus from the olden days who believed that darker colors and subdued patterns were better suited for winter.

It Was Illegal to Celebrate a Marriage After Mid-Day


If you were a Victorian bride looking to have a wedding at 3 p.m., you were out of luck. In those days, it was improper for anyone to celebrate a marriage after mid-day. It’s probably a good thing that people started to loosen up with this rule or 24-hour chapels would have a tough time making money today.

Men Shouldn’t Address Women by Their Given Name


You may have noticed how some older movies had men address women as Ms. Lane or Ms. Dolly, but they never used their first name. That’s because back in the 1950s, men couldn’t address a woman by her given name or even a nickname unless she gave him permission to do so.

Boasting And Showing Off Expensive Things Was Rude


In the early 1900s, it was considered rude to show off or talk about the fine things one owned at home. So if you happened to buy an expensive antique chair or desk, you couldn’t really turn that into an interesting dinner conversation with party guests, neighbors, or even your friends, no matter how much you adored your new furniture.

Women Had to Adhere to Certain Gift Giving Rules for Men


In the 1890s, women weren’t allowed to give men a gift unless they had received one from their significant other first. And when it came to picking out a gift it had to handmade or fairly inexpensive. This showed your husband that you went above and beyond and really thought of a unique way to show your appreciation.

Women Had to Walk Appropriately in Public


Women had to have a modest and measured walk while they were out and about. That meant that walking frantically or fast was frowned upon. But these days, it’s pretty common for a gal to be in a rush because she has a lot to do before 5 pm, right? Finishing everything on your to-do list is far more important than having a stylish or lady-like walk!

In 1844, You Wouldn’t Leave Your Hat in The Hall When You Visit

Wikipedia / Museum of London

When you paid someone a morning visit, you had to make sure that you never left your hat in the hall. Doing so made it seem like you had made yourself too much at home. So, instead you had to take the hat with you into whatever room you were heading to.

The Length of a Conversation Depended on Where You Were


In Victorian times, you couldn’t stand in the middle of the street and have a conversation all day long. Doing so would have held up traffic. So you had to keep conversations short when you casually run into a friend or an acquaintance. But say for instance, you happened to be taking a lovely stroll through the garden, then you could definitely talk a lot longer.

Using Abbreviated Words Was Inexcusable


In the 19th century, the use of abbreviated words was a big no-no. Using the word “gents” instead of gentlemen, “vest” instead of waistcoat, or “pants” instead of pantaloons, was considered vulgar and completely unacceptable for a true lady or a gentleman. Doing so would have earned you a couple of side-eyed stares.

There Was an Umbrella Etiquette


In the late 1800s, umbrellas were major indicators of the kind of social position you fit in. In 1894, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a whole essay called “The Philosophy of Umbrellas” where he stated that umbrellas were an indicator of your position in society. For example, an umbrella made of gingham made you appear decent and reputable whereas a silk umbrella suggested you were a hypocrite.

You Couldn’t Talk About Politics or Religion


In the late 1800s, people couldn’t bring up topics like religion or politics during a social conversation, but these weren’t the only topics that were banned. It turns out that talking about specific interests with people who knew nothing about those topics was also considered rude. So you really had to think of socially-appropriate topics to discuss at your next party.

Laughter and Smiling Were Frowned Upon

People in the 1800s people believed that smiling was not a sign of a well-mannered person. Another thing that was looked down on was laughing too much. So if you had to laugh, you had to keep it to yourself or keep it to a minimum. This laughable rule was considered the polite thing to do back in the day.

Being a Wife Was a Woman’s Career


In the 1950s, it was frowned upon for women to pursue a career mainly because marriage counselors claimed that being a wife was a career on its own for many reasons. It required wives to be businesswomen, diplomats, trained nurses, schoolteachers, politicians, and of course, good cooks. But they totally forgot to mention that being a mother or a wife was an unpaid job.

You Had to Moderate Your Tone of Voice

Reddit / closecaxton

It took a lot of concentration for people to keep their voices in check, but it was considered the norm. One simply couldn’t walk into a room and start talking in a high, shrill or nasal tone like Fran Drescher on “The Nanny.” People had to moderate their tone and speak in a low and “controlled” voice, but not so low that no one could hear them, of course.

A Lady Never Carries Her Dress With Two Hands


In the 19th century, women had to carry their dress with their right hand, lifted outward to the right as she crossed the street. Carrying their dress with two hands was considered inappropriate because it showed their ankles way too much. Can you imagine if they could take a peek at today’s fashion?

Women Shouldn’t Invite Men to Their Apartment


In the 1960s, a woman couldn’t invite a man over to her apartment for a night cap. The same concept applied if she threw a party at her house. If all the other guests left, a man couldn’t stay with her at home. The respectable thing to do was for him to leave along with everyone else. But this rule varied depending on the town you lived in. Some people were old fashioned and stuck to this rule while others were a little more flexible.

Women Had to Wear Their Hair Up


In Victorian times, women had to wear their hair up and it always had to look well put together and fresh for their husbands. So, having a bad hair day or frizzy hair in the 1800s was practically a nightmare and it was considered pretty rude.

Children Were Seen and Not Heard


In the 1900s, children were not allowed to contradict an adult under any circumstance. And if they had their own opinion about something, they had to keep it to themselves or they would get punished by their parents. Back in those days, “well behaved” children barely had a voice.

Women Shouldn’t Accept  Gifts That Were Too Personal

Reddit / notbob1959

Giving a woman a gift that was too personal like jewelry or a nightgown on Christmas or for her birthday was really frowned upon. That’s because a girl wasn’t allowed to accept something too valuable or personal from someone other than her husband. But if she got this type of gift from a friend or acquaintance, she was expected to politely tell the person she couldn’t accept it.

A Man Had to Ask for Permission to Smoke in Front of a Woman


In the 1950s, a man couldn’t take a cigarette out, light it up, and start smoking in front of a woman. It was considered pretty impolite and rude. He had to ask her for permission first, especially if they were both inside a confined space like a car. And it was up to the woman to decide if she would say yes or no.

Calling Cards Were Left Primary by Women


During the Victorian era, it was a woman’s role to leave a calling card to let a friend or family know that they had paid them a visit when they weren’t home. It’s not to say that a man couldn’t do it, but it was seen more as a woman’s job in those days and it was the polite thing to do.

Don’t Hug or Kiss Your Kids Either


In the 1920s, parenting expert John Watson told parents to avoid hugging or kissing their kids and leave them in their cribs as long as possible. Watson wrote in Psychological Care of the Infant and Child that doing so would lead to kids building stronger characters, as they wouldn’t get used to their parents picking them up in their arms every single time they cried.

Women Needed Flowers to Attract Men


According to a 1938 issue of Mademoiselle, the key to attracting a man was to show him how wanted you were. So women would have someone like their mom send flowers to their daughter’s dorm room so that other guys would think they were in demand. Another tactic involved turning the lights off in the room so guys would think the women they liked were out on a date.

The Host Always Serves the Meat


If a host from the 1950s threw a dinner party, they were required to serve the meat themselves and then pass the plate along to the guests seating on their right until everyone at the table was served.

Women Should Never Pick up the Bill


In the 1950s, proper etiquette dictated that the man always footed the bill when going on a date. As a matter of fact, going dutch or offering money while on the date would’ve been considered rude or impolite. Since men were the breadwinners of the family, this rule totally made sense back in the day.

A Wife Was Pretty Much a Baby Factory


In the early 1900s, a wife was seen as nothing more than a baby making factory from the day she walked down the aisle. So being a mom was the only thing she should focus on. Wives should abstain from planning a future that focused on making other dreams come true. If they deviated from this plan, society deemed that a woman would have no right to call herself a wife.

You Had to Use a Prefix When Addressing Your Superior

Dialog Ethik

When addressing people who were your superior at work, you had to use a prefix like Mr., Ms., Mrs. as being formal was perceived as a form of respect. You could also use sir, or ma’am, too. But these days, it’s not unusual to be on a first name basis with your boss.

Women Need to Freshen Up Before He Comes Home


In the 1950s, women had to take 15 minutes to stop what they were doing and rest for a bit so they’d look more relaxed before their husband came home. Then, they’d freshen up by touching up their makeup and putting a ribbon in their hair. It was important for a wife to follow this rule because she had to consider that her husband was looking forward to seeing someone pretty after looking at his co-workers all day long.

If a Wife Doesn’t Agree With Her Husband, He Should Divorce Her


In the 1910s, a man had a simple solution when dealing with a wife who had a mind of her own. If she refused to agree with him during a conversation or an argument, the husband had two options. He could either choose to ignore her like a ghost or divorce her. Marriage was no walk in the park back in those times either!

Eloping Wasn’t Really Considered a Real Wedding


Eloping might be a great alternative to a traditional wedding these days, but in the olden days, running away to marry your lover in w him wasn’t really considered a “real wedding.” In fact, some saw it as a shameful act or an act of defiance. Some even felt it was insulting to the family who probably would’ve wanted to witness the union.

You Must Never Smoke in The Streets in Broad Daylight


The Victorian era was truly an interesting time full of unusual rules that probably don’t make a lot of sense in today’s world. But back in those days, people weren’t allowed to smoke in the streets when it was light outside. In fact, it was a serious crime. But they could smoke outside at night in the dark.

Don’t Talk Out Loud in a Railway Carriage


In the 19th century, it was considered poor etiquette to talk out loud in a railway carriage and have everyone hear you. That’s because this prevented other passengers from enjoying their own conversations or reading a newspaper or a book. Breaking this rule made you come off like a bit of a jerk with no manners.