Throwback Month

These 19th Century Bed-iquette Rules Never Went Out of Style in My Home

published Apr 12, 2022
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After the first season of “Bridgerton,” sales of four-poster beds and sleigh beds reportedly went through the roof. No surprise there — the bedroom, um, furnishings on the show are very aspirational. (Here’s hoping the people who bought those beds are getting what they paid for.)

But the show, whose second season just dropped on Netflix, did more than just renew interest in Regency-era (which lasted from 1811-1820 in England) furnishings — it also made me think about old-school bedroom etiquette rules, aka bed-iquette. I still practice certain rules that my grandmother, who was born about 80 years post-“Bridgerton,” passed down. While there are plenty of arcane bedroom codes of conduct related to who should be in one’s bed that are best left in earlier centuries, I think the “Bridgerton”-era rules related to what goes on top of the bed are still spot on if you want to keep your space clean and tidy.

No street clothes on the bed.

Regency-era London was notoriously filthy — as was every city at the time. It would have been unthinkable for the ladies and lords of “Bridgerton” to sit on their hand-embroidered white bed linens in the clothing they wore on the streets — particularly since doing laundry was a two-day process that involved lugging water, boiling clothes, washing with lye, hanging clothes to dry, then ironing. 

It’s easy to see why the Regency chaise, or fainting couch, became such a popular furnishing during this era. As interior designer Danielle Rollins points out, once a housekeeper made the bed, 19th-century gentry did not return to it until it was turned down again at night. The chaise gave them a place to rest or read during the day.

While things have changed about people’s access to (and attitudes around) personal hygiene and community sanitation since then, bacteria still exists. It’s just not as visible. It can live in clothing for weeks or months and make its way onto your sheets. Throughout the course of a normal day, clothes come in contact with germs, fungi, other people’s bodily fluids and dead skin cells — I can’t think of many less appealing bedmates. 

Keep handbags and luggage off the bed.

Handbags, backpacks and luggage not only have all of the invisible horrors listed above, but they’re also more likely to bring home semi-visible hitchhikers like bed bugs and lice, as well as run-of-the-mill dirt and grime that can be transferred to your linens. What’s more, their outer hardware, buckles, and zippers can cause pulls and tears on a delicate duvet.

Handbags, which really only came into fashion in the early 19th century, were exclusively for leaving the house, so they would have been kept with outer clothing, probably near the home’s entrance. Back then, the grandest manors would have had a trunk room, where servants could spirit trunks away out of sight after unpacking them, but opulent trunks as part of the room furnishings were also an option. These would have been too large to consider putting on the bed. Thankfully, luggage racks are a 19th-century tradition that persists.

No coats allowed in the bedroom.

Again, this rule exists for all the reasons listed above. Outer clothes picked up all the street grime and germs of not-yet-fully industrialized society, and likely had buckles and hardware that could snag a coverlet. As Walter R. Houghton wrote in his 1883 book, “American Etiquette and Rules of Politeness,” “Do not let garments lie scattered about promiscuously,” which is now my favorite way to think of a cuddle puddle of coats on the bed at a party.

Understandably, many people have limited closet space so we may not have the luxury of keeping our coats out of the bedroom. But if it’s an option, they should have a dedicated closet or rack. Whenever I’m at a party and see piles of coats on a bed, all I can think of are the teeming microbes and bacteria, and other decidedly unsexy things that will still be there the morning after. 

Not exactly the kind of steamy situation that inspires sleigh bed sales, is it?

This piece is part of Throwback Month, where we’re revisiting vintage styles, homes, and all kinds of groovy, retro home ideas. Boogie on over here to read more!