And typically, an event known as The Season precipitated all the upper-crust matches that would lead to these arrangements. Families who took part in the event had one goal in mind: To find their daughter a suitor.
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No matter where they lived, the Victorian elite would send their daughters — in their mid teens and early twenties — to London for the sake of encountering a potential match. The most important element of The Season took place in the Coming Out , or the presentation of young women before the King and Queen by their mothers, aunts, or other female relative. Even though the actual presentation only lasted a few moments for each girl, the planning would start months, if not years, prior.
Once a young woman had come out socially as a debutante, she could then attend parties and social gatherings. The caveat, of course, was that she could not do so alone.
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She was always accompanied by a female chaperone — usually her mother — and had to navigate the brave new world of dating while under supervision. Men were well aware that others watched — and judged — their interactions with women in the dating realm.
Women often carried these fans to avoid fainting in hot ballrooms — which, given the prevalence of corsets and tight gowns, was a more commonplace event than you might think. Women of the middle and upper classes were expected to conform to the sentimental idealization promoted by the literature and art of the time.
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Even the fashions of the day, like tight corsets and hoop skirts, symbolized the rigid structure women were expected to live within. Maintaining a spotless reputation was essential for both men and women, and once each was of marriageable age, there was a timetable and script to follow to matrimony.
Once a young woman was done with her schooling, she would be presented to society to show she was in the market for a husband. Wealthy families might hold a series of parties, middle-class families generally held one private party or dance, and girls from working class families usually did without a celebration and simply signaled they were of age by wearing their hair up, dressing in long skirts and joining the adults for dinner and on social calls.
When there was romantic interest, the young man was expected to act as the pursuer.
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Men were cautioned not to pay too much attention to a woman unless he was serious about her and also financially ready for marriage -- or soon to be. Yet with little privacy, young couples lacked the opportunity to get to know each other well before confronting the question of marriage. Poor couples generally made an effort to be as respectable as their wealthier counterparts, but the rules were more lax.
Once a working-class couple decided to marry, they could socialize together with only a younger sibling as a chaperone. Premarital sex was tolerated in such cases, because announcing an engagement was considered a verbal contract.