Regency Etiquette

The Mirror of Graces (1811)

by a Lady of Distinction
Publishers: R. L. Shep

Review by Cathleen Myers

This is not so much an etiquette book as a beauty and fashion manual written not for ladies of Regency Society (to which the author very clearly does not belong) but for the newly rich middle classes. For Regency recreationists, romance writers and costumers, this book is a gem, not merely for its advice on color coordination, accessories, cosmetics, figure control, corseting, undergarments, and other intimate details discussed with Regency bluntness, but for its reflection of the middle class Regency mindset. The author, for instance, deplores shocking fashion for low décolletage, the rising Regency hemlines, the minimalist approach to underwear.....but admits, like a true pragmatist, that Society will be much more forgiving of lapses in good taste if the lady in question has a beautiful bosom and nice legs.

Regency dancers will really enjoy her chapter on dance etiquette, including the author’s caustic comments on modern ballroom trends. She sighs over the demise of the classic minuet and allemande, is disgusted by the waltz, and horrified at the growing tendency of young Society girls to dance country dances and cotillions like ballet dancers (with extensions that reveal their garters!).

Who is the author? Possibly a governess or companion in a diplomat’s family. She has seen a number of foreign courts and discourses intelligently on Continental manners, but is too clearly impressed by foreign titles to be real English Society herself and her table of Precedence contains several glaring errors that reveal the gentlewoman on the edge of Society as opposed to the Real Lady. Still, this is valuable First Hand source material from an author who has actually observed and recorded a great deal about the manners and customs of two generations.

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