Etiquette guides, manuals, and columns have a long standing history within the United States. These literary tools served as accessible forms of instruction that detailed the ideal and proper conduct that was expected within society. Etiquette advisors detailed and prescribed the appropriate course of action for all situations whether the occasion was a formal dinner party or an informal interaction on the street. The frequent publication of new additions that continuously built upon the standards as proper behavior and accessibility of which these guides were circulated to the public made it clear that proper manners and general politeness were tools that should be employed and maintained by everyone. Between 1850 and 1880, the American middle class eagerly sought out the protocol and procedures that were prescribed by etiquette advisors through various means of publication. During the formative years of the American middle class, these etiquette guides served as a resource for the middle class to set themselves apart from the lower class and more closely align themselves with the idealized version of the American gentry, or the American upper class of the middle 1800s.
By exploring the changes in etiquette between this formative period for the middle class, it shows the larger trends and changes within the American economic and social landscape that allowed for the introduction of this new class. The intensification of industrialization that surrounded the American Civil War allowed for individuals to obtain a more secure economic standing within the middle class. The increased financial prosperity resulting from the post Civil War economic expansion allowed more individuals to formally enter the American middle class. This expansion created a larger audience that were relying on etiquette advisors and the prescribed courses of manners and decorum to set themselves apart as members of this emerging class through specific adjustments to idealized standards of behavior and hospitality employed by the American gentry. Mass consumption and mass marketing allowed for the middle class to gain access to a larger variety of goods that further facilitated the aspirational behavior and adherence to etiquette standards. As the American middle class continued to grow in population, the unique adherence to prescribed etiquette seen by this cohort of individual advisors began to subtly shift their advice to align with the values and standards held by the middle class as a whole. The changes implemented by etiquette advisors within dining etiquette surrounding formal dinner parties demonstrate the larger mechanisms that allowed for the middle class to establish themselves as a unique socioeconomic class.