Learn about Life in the 1920s

Dance Etiquette Instructions from the early 1920's

Due to the length of this article we have split it up into two parts. This is the second part.



Very often public dances are given in honor of some special occasion or a celebrated guest. They are very much like private dances, except that a specially appointed committee fulfills the position and duties of the hostess. At most public balls, the committee is composed of men and women who wear badges to indicate their position, and who stand at the door to receive and welcome each guest. These men and women do not dance the first dance, but wait until later in the evening when they are quite sure that all the guests have arrived; and then they are always back at their duty during the intervals between dances.

Guests arriving at a public dance greet the patronesses with a smile of welcome and a word or two, but rarely offer their hands to be shaken unless the ladies serving as patronesses take the initiative. They may stay for one or two dances, or throughout the whole evening, as they prefer; and when departing, it is not necessary to seek out the patronesses and bid them good-by.

Engraved invitations are usually issued three weeks before the date set for the ball. On these cards the names of the patronesses are also engraved. If the entrance to the ball is by purchased ticket, such as is always the case when the ball is given for some charity, the invitations must be preserved and shown at the entrance.


Sometimes a supper is included in the arrangement of the public ball, and in such case a caterer is engaged to attend to all details, including servants. A buffet supper is always the most pleasing and satisfactory as the guests may partake of the foods when they desire and there is no confusion or interruption to the dance. Hot bouillon, various meats, salads, cakes, ices, fruits and confections are an ideal menu. Coffee or punch is sometimes added.

When a public ball is given in honor of some special person, that person must be met on his arrival and immediately introduced to the women on the reception committee and escorted to the seat reserved for him. He must be attended throughout the evening, introduced to everyone he does not know, and all his wants carefully taken care of. When he departs, he must be escorted to his carriage, and if he is a celebrated personage thanked for his presence--although truly cultured gentlemen prefer not to have this honor paid them.

A public ball is either a tremendous success or a miserable failure. There is no in-between. And the success or failure rests solely on the good judgment and influence of the ladies and gentlemen of the committees, including, of course, those who receive. To mingle freely among the guests, to join in the conversation, to introduce guests to each other and find partners for the "wallflowers" all these little services tend to arouse a spirit of friendliness and harmony that cannot but result in an evening that will be long remembered in the minds of every guest.


Lately there has been a great deal of unfavorable criticism directed against the modern dances. There have been newspaper articles condemning the "latest dance fads" as immoral and degrading. There have been speeches and lectures against "shaking and twisting of the body into weird, outlandish contortions." There have been vigorous crusades against dance halls. And all because a few ill-bred, fun-loving, carefree young people wrongly interpreted the new dances in their own way and gave to the steps the vulgar abandon appropriate only to the cheap vaudeville stage or the low dance hall.

Dancing, even the shoulder-shaking, oscillating dancing of to-day, is really not intended to be vulgar or immoral at all, despite the crusades of the anti-immorality dancing committees! What is dancing, after all, if not the expression of one's ideals and emotions? It is only the man or woman with a vulgar mind, with base ideals, who will give a vulgar interpretation to a dance of any kind. But the essentially fine girl, the really well-bred man, the people who, by their poise and dignity have earned for America the envied title of "Republic of the Aristocrats"--they dance these latest creations for the sheer joy of the dance itself, reveling in its newness, enjoying the novelty of its "different" steps, seeing nothing in its slow undulations or brisk little steps, but art--a "jazzy" art, to be sure, but still the beautiful art of dancing.

And so we plead--let the younger generation enjoy its giddy waltzes and brisk-paced fox-trots and fancy new dances just as grandmother, when she was young, was allowed to enjoy the minuet and the slow waltz. They are different, yes, and rather hard to accept after the dignified dances of not so long ago. But they are picturesque, to say the least, and artistic. The gracefully-swaying bodies, keeping step in perfect harmony to the tunes of the newer symphony orchestras, are delightful to watch; and in good society, young men and women can always be trusted to deport themselves with utter grace and poise.

The minuet was decidedly graceful. The old German waltz with its dreamy, haunting melody was beautiful as it was enjoyable. But they have been relegated into the days of hoop skirts and powdered wigs. To-day the "jazzy" dances are in vogue, and society in its lowest and highest circles is finding intense pleasure in the whirling, swirling dances decreed by fashion as her favorites. Why complain? Perhaps in another year or two, these giddy-paced dances will be "out of style" and in their stead will be solemn, slow dances more graceful and stately than even the minuet of yore.


Immediately after the Reign of Terror, France was plunged into a reckless round of unrestrained gayety that can come only from love of life and youth and laughter long pent-up. It was as though an avalanche of joy had been released; it was in reality the reaction from the terrors and nightmares of those two years of horror. The people were free, free to do as they pleased without the fear of the guillotine ever present; and all France went mad with rejoicing.

It was then that dancing came into its own. Almost overnight huge dance halls sprang up. The homes of wealthy aristocrats who had been sacrificed to the monster guillotine, were converted into places for dancing. Every available inch of space was utilized for the dance. And the more these freed people danced, the more their spirits soared with the joy of life and living, until they found in the dance itself the interpretation of freedom and all that it means.

A biographer who was an eye-witness of this madcap Paris, wrote in detail about the dance and the dress of these people. He told how they dressed in the brightest clothes they could obtain, for maddened with happiness as they were, they instinctively felt that bright clothes would enliven their spirits. And they did!

"The room was a mass of swirling, twirling figures," the biographer writes, "men, women and children in weird, vivid clothes. It seemed natural that they should be dancing so wildly in their wild costumes; in their sabots and aprons of two months ago they would not have been able to take one step."

It is, then, the spirit of clothes that imparts to one the spirit of the dance. We have mentioned these facts about the Reign of Terror to show what effect clothes do have on the spirit, and incidentally to show what the ballroom owes to dress. For it is undoubtedly the gayly-colored dance frock of the miss of the twentieth century, and the strikingly immaculate dance suit of her partner that gives to the ballroom to-day much of its splendid brilliance.


There can be no comparison between the mad dance of freed France and the simple, graceful dance of to-day. Yet we can see the effect of clothes in relation to both.

It is not often that dances are held in the afternoon, but when the occasion does arise, dress is just as gay and colorful as one can wear without being gaudy. The decorous effect of these bright-colored costumes is what brings the "giddy kaleidoscopic whirl of colors and costumes, modes and manners" that the historian speaks of when he mentions the ballroom.

For the afternoon dance, we would suggest that the very young person choose the fluffiest and most becoming style which fashion permits. Trim it gaily, but above all, make it youthful--for youth and dancing are peculiarly allied.

The older woman will want a gown that is more suited to her years. It may be of taffeta, Canton crepe or crepe-de-chine; but satin is one of the materials that is preferred for more formal occasions than the afternoon dance. The colors may be somber, to match one's tastes, but the trimming should have a note of gayety.

Décolleté is never worn at the afternoon dance. Short sleeves may be worn if Fashion favors them at the time, and the neck of the gown is also cut on the lines that agree with the prevalent mode. But it is extremely bad taste, even for a very celebrated guest of honor, to attend the afternoon dance in a sleeveless, décolleté gown.

A late custom seems to favor the wearing of satin slippers to match the gown. It is not by any means bad taste, but patent leather or kid pumps are preferred for the afternoon, reserving the more elaborate satin pumps for evening wear. Long white silk or kid gloves and a light-colored afternoon wrap complete the correct dress for the afternoon dance. The hat, of course, depends on Fashion's whim at the moment.


In summer, the gentleman may wear a complete suit of gray with a white duck waistcoat and light linen to the afternoon dance, completing his costume with black patent leather shoes or oxford ties, light gray gloves, and straw hat with black and white band. But whether it be for summer or winter, the dark suit is always better taste.

It may be of serge, twillet or homespun, preference being given always to the conventional navy blue serge. Double-Breasted models are appropriate for the young man; single-breasted for the older. Light linen and bright ties are in full accordance with the gay colors worn by the women at the dance. The coat may be the ordinary unlined, straight hanging overcoat of thin material in a light color, or it may be an attractive full belted raglan coat of tan or brown fleece. In either case it is worn with the conventional afternoon hat of the season.


When the dance is held in the evening, it often assumes an air of formality.

It is at the ball that such important events as introducing one's daughter to society or celebrating the graduation of one's son from college, takes place.

Of course, one wears one's most important jewels to the ball, and indulges in a headdress that is a trifle more elaborate than usual. The event is a brilliant one, and if gaudiness and ostentation are conscientiously avoided, one may dress as elaborately as one pleases.

This does not mean, however, that the woman whose purse permits only one evening gown, need feel ill at ease or self-conscious at the ball, for simplicity has a delightful attractiveness all its own, and if the gown is well-made of excellent materials, and in a style and color that is becoming, one will be just as effectively dressed as the much-bejeweled dowager.


A gown is chosen with much premeditated consideration for so momentous an occasion as being ushered into society. The young lady does well to seek the advice of her friends who are already in society, and of her modiste who knows by long experience just what is correct and becoming. But perhaps we can give some advice here that will be helpful.

A delicately tinted gown, in pastel shades, or one that is pure white is preferred for the happy debutante. Tulle, chiffon, net and silk georgette are the most popular materials. The style should be youthful and simple, preferably bordering on the bouffant lines rather than on those that are more severely slender. The neck may be cut square, round or heart-shaped, and elbow-length sleeves or full-length lace sleeves are preferred. The sleeveless' gown is rarely worn by the young debutante.

The debutante who wears many jewels displays poor taste. Just a string of softly glowing pearls, or one small diamond brooch, is sufficient. Her hair should be arranged simply in a French coil or youthful coiffure, and should be wholly without ornamentation. Simplicity, in fact, is one of the charms of youth, and the wise young person does not sacrifice it to over-elaboration, even on the day of her debut.


The woman wears her most elaborate evening wrap to the ball. Soft materials in light shades are suggested, with trimmings of fur for the winter months. A wrap of old blue or old rose velvet with a collar of white fog is becoming and attractive when it is within one's means. But the simple wrap of cloth, untrimmed, is certainly better taste for the woman whose means are limited. However, discrimination should be shown in the selection of lines and colors. A simple wrap, well-cut, and of fine material in a becoming shade, is as appropriate and effective as a wrap completely of fur. For the woman who must dress economically a dark loose coat of black satin is serviceable for many occasions.

Hats are never worn to the ball. A shawl or scarf of fine lace may be thrown over the hair and shoulders. Or a smaller shawl may be tied merely around the head. Satin pumps are worn, usually with buckle trimmings; and long gloves of white silk or kid, or in a color to match the gown, complete the outfit.


Nothing less strictly formal than the complete full dress suit is worn by the gentleman at the evening ball. His costume strikes a somber, yet smart, note.

Whether it be summer or winter, the gentleman wears the black full dress coat, lapels satin-faced if he so desires, and trousers to match. Full rolled waistcoat, small bow-tie and stiff linen are all immaculately white. Patent leather pumps and black silk socks complete the outfit.

In summer, the gentleman wears over his full dress suit a light unlined coat, preferably black in color. If the lapels of the suit are satin-faced, the coat lapels may correspond. White kid gloves are worn, and a conventional silk hat. In winter, the coat may be a heavy, dark-colored raglan, although the Chesterfield overcoat more suits his dignified dress. With it he wears white kid gloves and a high silk hat or felt Alpine as he prefers.


There can be nothing more picturesque and delightful than some of the pretty little social dances held in the smaller towns. Sometimes they are held in the afternoon; more often in the evening, but always they are a source of keen enjoyment both to the participants and to those who "look on."

We are going to tell you about a dance held recently in the home of a social leader in a typical small town. Everyone of any consequence whatever attended, and the occasion proved one worthy of remembrance in the social annals of the town. There were perhaps one hundred and fifty women and one hundred men. Three rooms in the hostess' home were thrown open into one huge ballroom. The dancing began at eight o'clock in the evening--rather early for the city, but unusually late for this country town.

To a visitor from so gay a metropolis as New York, the simplicity of the women's dress was a pleasing change. They were in evening dress, yes, but a strangely more conservative evening dress than that described previously for the formal ball. There were no sleeveless gowns, no elaborate decolletes. Taffetas, chiffons and silk brocades were developed simply into gowns of dignified charm. One did not notice individual gowns, for no one woman was dressed more elaborately than another. This is what everyone should strive for simplicity with charm and a complete absence of all conspicuousness.

Fashion has been condemned. Women have been ridiculed for their "extreme tastes." As a matter of fact, civilization owes dress a great debt, and women have an inherent good taste. And both these facts are forcibly proved at the country dance, where simplicity and harmony of color combine to give an effect that is wholly delightful and charming.

The lesson we might take from this is that simplicity in dress has more beauty and effect than elaborate "creations."

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