Some etiquette rules and traditions as well as clothing tips are compiled here based on the advice of expert Patrick Schlenker “Pat's Uniform und Kostüm Verleih Schlenker”:
Tips on style and etiquette for the Belle Epoque season
During the daytime an elegant gentleman’s attire is a sports jacket, a frock coat or a woollen version of the frock coat. In cold or bad weather he also wears an overcoat or cape. Plus, a bowler hat or top hat. The waistcoat under the jacket or frock coat can be black or grey or colourful in the case of the woollen frock coat. The shirt should be white and worn with cufflinks as well as a cravat. Trousers can be the same colour as the jacket or black-grey pinstripe. The woollen frock coat and frock coat are not worn for social evening occasions when an evening suit or tuxedo is compulsory. A white waistcoat and bow tie should be worn with the tuxedo. The white shirt will have a wing collar, cufflinks and pleated front that is buttoned for the classic tuxedo. Cufflinks are the norm.
Women’s fashion during Belle Epoque Week comes in many shapes and forms and the winter attire is also varied. There are long coats with fur edging, promenade or travel suits made from warm wool with a fur stole, muff, gloves and hat - to name only a few items. An umbrella is an advantage in case of snow and mostly made of oiled silk. Later in Belle Epoque Week the hats become larger and more extravagant. The same applies for hairstyles. A lady wears gloves in society and only takes them off to dine. Unlike the men, ladies do not remove their hats when entering a building.
Good morning/afternoon, how are you?
Greeting on the street depends on the social standing of the individual citizen.
A citizen from a lower social class must never be the first to greet a member of a higher social class. The lower ranking person must wait to be greeted and may only return the salutation afterwards. A polite lifting of the hat is the rule as a sign of recognition among equals and as a mark of esteem when greeting a lady. Touching the edge of the hat without lifting it is also regarded as a normal greeting. When a single lady and gentleman meet, the gentleman is the first to greet and never the lady. This may otherwise be misconstrued.
The hand kiss is only used indoors and on railway platforms. Outdoors, generally there is no hand kissing but the hand is presented. A lady’s hand is never shaken, merely held and the same applies for the hand kiss. For the hand kiss, the gentleman takes the lady’s presented hand and lightly bows over it, similar to taking a bow. For a brief moment the gentleman’s lips hover a few centimetres above the back of the lady’s hand. The lips should never touch the hand, unless this is the gentleman’s wife or the gentleman intends to make a declaration of love to the lady in question. The lady is the only party to decide whether the gentleman may kiss her hand or not. If the lady does not present her hand she does not wish to enter into any contact. As a general rule, however, the hand kiss only applies for ladies who are married or older than 30 years.
What are the important rules for good table manners?
If a couple or a group including ladies go into dinner, one man always goes first, either the waiter or one of the gentlemen. As a general rule the man is seated next to the lady or the lady on the right-hand side of the gentleman. The gentleman offers assistance to the lady as she takes a seat or when standing up. If the lady wishes to leave, she can address the gentleman and the entire table with a polite remark, “Would you please excuse me”. However, normally non-verbal communication suffices such as the removal of the napkin from the lap and placing it on the table. If a lady stands up, all the men at the table also briefly stand as a sign of their esteem.
Toasts are not made with drinks glasses. The toast involves eye contact, however, without making a sound when touching the glasses or saying “Cheers”.
When seated stay in an upright position and never lean the elbows on the table.
What to do with my coat?
If the gentleman enters a closed room he immediately removes his hat. If the place is a restaurant, hotel or private home where he is a guest, the gentleman hands the waiter or maid - if there is one - his hat and coat. And, if he has them, he also hands over his gloves, scarf and walking stick. If there are no maids or assistants in the private house, the gentleman hangs his attire in the cloakroom. The frock coat or jacket are not removed, but these should be unbuttoned when taking a seat.
If the gentleman leaves the place, he receives his clothing items back from the attendant or waiter and he puts these on inside with the exception of the hat. He only puts his hat on again when he has left the building and is outside on the street.
Etiquette for the lady
Lady’s of the upper classes behave politely and elegantly. It is not appropriate for her to discuss economic or political matters with the gentlemen.
The lady knows her place in the family, namely, alongside the man who gives her financial security. A lady from the middle or upper classes should also represent the family’s good reputation through her stylish and impeccable appearance. Her role is to oversee the children’s education and organize the household with the help of her maids. The lady shares her husband’s opinions and never contradicts.