Social classes have been around since the dawn of civilization where you were classified by the survival skills that you possess and your ability to use them. Unfortunately also since the dawn of civilization there has been the conflict between the upper classes looking down upon the people below them. The Victorian era was no different lifestyles were most commonly meager and those who had a more luxurious lifestyle avoided contact with the other class.
The main difference between these classes is their dress. During the day men usually wear a lounge suit. This suit resembles what is now the three-piece suit. The lounge suit first became popular in the 1850s, it was very large and baggy but developed in the 1860s to the more tailored version. This suit was most common because of its economical price. Most often men wore this suit in plaid with just the top one of the four buttoned. Though other suits of the time had buttons covered with fabric, collectively silk, the lounge suit buttons were not. These lounge suit were daily wear for the wealthier groups and those with a job did not require manual labor, for the lower class this suit was most likely their best. Evening wear, however, consisted of a black tail coat black pants and white vest or black vest. The shirt and bow tie were also white and heavily starched. A gentleman would also were white gloves coming in contact with a lady’s bare hands was considered crude not to mention the fact that the seat from a man’s hands could stain a woman’s dress. Another thing that separated the classes is the behavior when in the ballroom and in the company of a woman.
When in the ballroom men and women where to be as well behaved as possible, as is today. Men had more controlling positions than ladies and were required to escort a lady anywhere in the ballroom. It was considered taboo to be seen wandering without an escort. Other rules include the ejection of loud talking and/or laughing and also a married couple should not dance together but if they do this is a display of a husband’s abundance of care for his wife. A lady furthermore, cannot refuse to dance with one gentleman and then accept another gentleman in the same dance. Men would often help a lady over a bad crossing or down from a difficult coach without even know them and continue on like nothing had happened. When meeting a lady for the first time she is not required to say anything in return immediately whereas men are required to not only life their hat but to speak right away. Ballroom manners were of course reserved for the upper classes. Though the people of high social standing were often though of as perfect they to had their own dirty secrets.
Although on the surface the gentlemen of this era seemed more polite and restrained they are no better than the men of today are. These gentlemen spit, which went along with the mostly American behavior of chewing and smoking tobacco. This was done most frequently outright by the lower classes. Unlike the lower classes the wealthy had rules even when inviting someone to visit.
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The more working class citizens would simply walk over or send the message though someone that might see them later. The affluent would, like in the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations, send out a formal invite rarely asking in person. Also common were visiting cards. While not readily used by common people the visiting card held much importance to the well to do. So many factors were accounted for when giving and receiving a greeting card, fashion of engraving, texture, and even when it was left would send a message to the recipient. Not to be confused with a business card, a visiting card served as a way to keep track of that had invited you and where unlike business cards, which suggested that, you need to pay a debt to the company. If the receiver lived far away it was, however, acceptable to mail it either folded in half if it is for the whole house or folded at the corner if it was for a lady. Transportation also separated the classes. The lower class most commonly walked while the more prominent took a coach or the newly invented train. The train was not the same train that you think of today. The majority of train resembled coaches without the horse. Today we have engineers, conductors, first class, coach, cars, roofs on all the cars, lights, and heat. Then engineers and conductors were called drivers and guards. The cars were referred to as carriages. The carriages were separated from each other and there was no way to move from one section to the next. The more “economical” carriages were cattle cars which had no roof or any form of protection from the elements. Riding in these cars meant arriving at your destination frost bitten and beaten. The first class carriages were not much better they had protection from the wind and rain but they were still cold. The only way that a person could keep warm was the ask the guard for a metal foot warmer which was filled with hot water. Carriages also had no light to see at night passengers often brought their own candles. Trains also lacked bathrooms and dining cars, passengers also brought these women could bring chamber pots and men could bring hoses to put under their pants. If they chose not to then they would have to wait for the next station, which could be awhile since the fastest train was a sluggish 55-mph. The classes of the Victorian era had one last division and this was in their schooling.
While the more money holding children would have a governess if you were a girl and a clergyman if you were a boy. This was the children’s schooling until they went off seek higher education. The less wealthy children were taught a trade early in life and were working at a very young age, school was not the first priority. This was not, after all, satisfactory for the church because the thought of child not know god because they could not read alarmed them that was when the church started Sunday school. These formed what is now elementary schools, whose popularity gained them a grant of 30,000 pounds. The schools were much like colleges today with what they called monitors ,now teacher’s assistants, and student to teacher ratio of 500-1.
As you can see the classes of the Victorian era were just as layered and contrasted as today or any other time the wealthy take only the best whereas the poor try to be like the wealthy.