Downton Etiquette

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How to be a Downton lady

With Downton Abbey premiering in the US this evening, we have many questions and high expectations for what the new season will bring. During the previous seasons I have always found myself to be fascinated with the exceptional poise and manners of not only the family, but of the staff as well. Now The Downton family and staff are heading full speed into a new decade and new relationships, (or so we are hoping!). Many changes will be coming, but the expectation of status and manners will hold true to the appropriate stations. The English Manner has compiled a few suggestions for us to review while waiting in anticipation for tonight’s premier.

1.  Domestic staff are hard to find so treat them with respect, but keep the relationship between employee and employer clear.  Your nanny or au pair, for instance, may live as part of the family, but they work for you, so give them a clear idea of what you expect from them.

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2.  Ladies can wear hats indoors until 6pm.  Unlike men who have to remove them when indoors (at all times), a woman’s hat is part of the outfit and not an accessory.

  1. Ladies never leave the dining table during a meal as it means the gentlemen have to rise from their seats, which disrupts everybody, so make sure you go to the loo before you go to the dining room!
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  1. When visiting your friends’ estates, it is good form to leave a tip for the maid who cleans your bedroom.  £5 per day should suffice, or ask your host how much you should leave.

  2. Many dinners at Downton are White Tie affairs, although in recent times Black Tie has been creeping in.  When White Tie is the order of the evening, long gloves and jewels should be worn.

  3. The hallmark of a true gentleman is that he knows how to tie a bow tie, so ladies, make sure your sons start to learn early!

  4. After dinner the ladies repair to the drawing room, so when your hostess says something like “ladies, shall we?” don’t linger at dining table, even if you are having the most fascinating conversation.

  5. Some country houses can be a little chilly, so some warm underwear can make the evenings more comfortable!

  6. When invited with your husband to go shooting, make sure you take some warm country clothes and suitable boots if you are to join the gentlemen for lunch.

  7. ‘How do you do’ is still the correct greeting when meeting someone new.  This is a not a question, so the answer is also ‘How do you do’.

  8. Think about the clothes you will need for a weekend away so that you don’t take too many suitcases.  You should not look as though you are coming to stay for a month!

  9. Today, when you are asked to stay for a country weekend your hostess says, “we dress”, it means that they wear Black Tie for dinner.  This means you will need to ask your maid to pack at least two evening dresses. It is also as well to take something smart to wear on Sunday if you are taken to church.

Diana Mather is a guest writer with extensive experience in classic and modern etiquette.
This article originally appeared on The English Manner on December 3, 2012.

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