July 9, 2010

1860s Dinner Invitations

To help out all of us bored, ladies I am planning to host a tea or a dinner soon at one of the future reenactments. It will most likely be a tea. It will by no means be a fancy engagement but it will serve to give us something to do while the men are drilling. Us ladies from different regiments rarely have any time to meet each other. It would be nice to be able to put names to faces and get to know the people who belong to the same battalion as us. Seeing as my particular company only has two civilians, we decided the only way to get to know everyone is to have everyone over for a small soiree. I am researching all of the particulars because I have never thrown any kind of get together in my life. I will be sure to be asking a lot of people for help.   

Dinners in the 1860s were normally held at 7 or 8 o'clock at night . During the social season (after Easter to August 12 in England, or from Fall to early Spring depending on the weather in the U.S.) it was customary to give out invitations three weeks in advance. For smaller gatherings or dinners during the "slow season" one or two weeks advance notice was considered sufficient. Invitations were written by hand or could be printed up with blanks to fill in with the guests names and the date of the dinner.
Invitations and R.S.V.Ps were a must as dinners could be large affairs with 10 courses as is given in the book The Habits of Good Society from 1865:

This book recommends fill in the blank invitations if you entertain a lot printed as below:

Another book, Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving by Mary Foote Henderson in 1876 suggests  similarly worded but handwritten invitations:
Responding to an invitation was considered polite an necessary for anyone planning a large party, the same book gives examples of polite decline R.S.V.Ps
An example of an accepting R.S.V.P:

Invitations were normally printed or written on cards, roughly 4.5"x 6" with a  matching envelope. Invitations were delivered by servants by hand. Invitations were only mailed if a guest lived far away. An example of an invitation from 1890 can be seen here

I plan to hand out invitations the Friday of the event and hopefully host the soiree on Saturday or Sunday--not up to period etiquette but it will have to do. I plan to do group invitations addressed to "The Ladies of the 44th Mississippi" and the like. For anyone who thinks they would like to be invited, we are pretty sure it will be at a big event in October, which should narrow down the particular event for most of us. If it goes well we will probably be hosting more at more events and encouraging others to do the same. Why should the men have all of the fun? 


  1. Well, I'm very sorry that I cannot attend, because I live a bit too far away...
    But it's a very interesting topic, invitation and replies to them.
    Also, I want to thank you for finally commenting on my blog - I wanted to reach you as my follower, and couldn't figure out how to do it!

  2. Hi Hana, Thanks for following and commenting. I do read your blog, I just don't always comment. I don't know much about Czech fashion, it's neat to see.

  3. I can understand that! There are too many good blogs out there for one to always comment, right?

    My blog is totally not about Czech fashion. :D It's just about mine...
    Although I would love to get more info about Czech historical fashions, so that I could make something really Czech for myself. One of the troubles is, most Czech museums do not allow photography and do not have the fantastic online collections American museums do have.
    I'll have to read your whole blog! You write about things that go with historical fashion, but which I do not have much time to dig up myself.


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