I have a bit of an obsession with old advice books. This shot is of not quite half my collection, which started with one Miss Manners book I got in college and has been slowly but steadily expanding since then.
It was actually a friend in my sophomore dorm who introduced me to Miss Manners. As I recall, we were arguing about something or other about how dates work, probably related to who pays for what, and she ran off and grabbed her copy of this edition of Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior to settle the matter.
After we finished teasing her for having an etiquette book in her room, we spend the rest of the evening reading letters to each other and giggling.
Aside from the fact that Miss Manners is a delightful writer and a lot of fun to read, what really grabbed me was the idea that someone was handing me an instruction manual for, well, life. This being a topic I wasn’t really clear on at the time, I was hooked. I got my own copy and read it cover-to-cover, more than once.
My first foray into vintage etiquette books was about 8 years later. I found an old copy of Emily Post at a thrift sale, and discovered a whole new world of instruction on the correct way to throw a debutante ball, rules on how to introduce an ambassador to a doctor’s wife, and what gifts were proper for an unmarried girl to accept from a man.
After collecting every etiquette book I came across over the years, I’ve expanded into household management and personal improvement. I admit this is partly because they’re funny as hell, but my collection is entirely non-ironic obsession for me. These books were written with the goal of helping women navigate their world. Yes, that world is gone and changed now, but rules are still in place, and with the benefit of distance easier to examine.
Part of what I want to do with this blog is share some of my collection, and take a closer look at the rules that have changed – and those that haven’t.