Dating in the Olden Times: How Victorian Men Courted

8. September 2011

Throughout history, men and women have faced the traditional need to find love and fill their homes with the children and wealth that can best be produced by a great marriage. At the very least the marriage should look great in public.

Needless to say, deciding who you should marry is a major choice and should never be entered into lightly or while drinking alcohol. So the process of courtship has always been a big deal, even though it has changed dramatically over the years. This article is going to be primarily concerned with how dating and courtship took place during the Victorian era.


By this era, men’s clothing had evolved into its more or less modern style, so getting ready no longer involved combining hosiery with swords—which may be the only method of walking around like that without being mocked. Women, on the other hand, had it even worse than they did during the Renaissance period.

For a man, shaving was optional. As any American Civil War general could tell you, having a powerful set of mutton chops or a massive beard was a symbol that you were a man’s man. Shaving was masculine in its sophistication and mockery of the dangers of a straight razor, but it wasn’t really necessary.

Women’s fashions revolved around maximizing the size of their derrieres, including the wearing of bustles. This fashion accessory caused a shape that would impress any rapper. Also en vogue was the corset, which rearranged one’s internal organs and contributed to an hourglass figure. Beauty hurts, sometimes.

Getting Ready

The Victorian era shared the process of using lemon juice to lighten skin with the Renaissance. In addition to this, the first perfumes were released commercially. The first deodorants came out, as well. However, one thing to note about early deodorants was that they were usually acidic enough to eat through a layer or two of clothing. They were even more hardcore than Mitchum.

Since women didn’t shave during this era, the process of removing unwanted body hair was a very painful one that often involved plucking and waxing. Once again, beauty can be quite painful.

Settings for Dates

The Victorian era was a time of great social changes. While dates were often still chaperoned to guard the chastity of the young and for safety’s sake, one of the major changes was that young people were less often seen as just their parents’ property and more often seen as being able to choose their mate. This led to dates that were more for fun than for immediate decision making, because the pressure was lower.

Some great places to take dates in this era were the cities. Improvements in infrastructure meant that cities had lots of great things to do on a date. While a walk in nature is a timeless classic, taking in a play and strolling along the boardwalk were things previous generations only wished they could do.

Key Players

Some of the key players in the dating game were still the parents, but their role was a smaller one than in generations past. The couples themselves were more important because the newer and more open forms of government promoted a culture where individuals were freer to move about and choose how they would spend their time. The entire notion of “free time” came about during the 19th century, as people began pursuing leisure time activities.

The Steps of the Process

During the Victorian Era, the process usually began with a man and a woman seeing one another. With more freedom of movement came more opportunities to meet, whether at parties or at less formal social gatherings. From there, a formal introduction was common but not always necessary.

Once a couple was introduced, the man would call on the woman. Many families would set out a courting candle, which allowed the man and woman to talk until it burned below a certain level. If the parents approved of a particular man, the candle could be set to be taller, or it could be made shorter if he didn’t make a good impression. This might have been the origin of the term “burning the wick from both ends.”

Victorian courtships could last months or even years in some cases. Wedding ceremonies were the inspiration of today’s weddings: highly extravagant and dedicated to showing the bride and groom at their best. This was the era when a bride’s dress was traditionally white to show her purity. No one knows how many women actually had the right to wear that color on their wedding day.

Putting it to Bed

Courtship has always been a crazy affair, but the Victorian age was one in which modern sensibilities clashed with a prudish uber-patron to make a very bizarre period. While the ancient chivalrous code wasn’t being practiced, there was still the old-fashioned separation of couples that made marriage a scary prospect of interpersonal discovery. In short, some people really were virgins on their wedding days.

Leave a Comment

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: