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Fancy Girl
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A little bit of background

For the 18th and 19th century lady, there was no surviving without your visiting cards! The great grand parents of today's business cards they bore nothing but your name and maybe title, and would be given as the first step towards making a new acquaintance, or as part of various social rituals with your current social circle.

Their etiquette and appearance has changed a lot over the centuries, but they are still in play today!

Any one who loves a good old book will run into references to these cards, and did you know they are still in use today? Formal society, as well as the quirky and fancy girls use them in a variety of ways, and in this months Fancy Girl feature I hope to inspire a few more people to start packing these useful little pieces of paper!

Styles of cards

18th century

Visiting cards in the 18th century were well decorated, some engravers would even specialize in this little cardboard trinkets creating wonderful artistic engraved scenes, which surrounded the card givers name and title.

Famous places, historical and classical scenes were very popular for much of the 18th century!

towards the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century the cards became far more simplistic. Just the name and title in black on a plain cream card. A lot of attention was put into picking out just the right type face for cards like these!

Visiting card from the 1770's
Early 1800's Visiting card

19th Century

Of course we all know how the victorians loved to decorate! The result in the 19th century were the most fantastic looking visiting cards of all! Adorned with colorful decorations, such as flowers, birds, hands and other pretty symbols, the cards shed their monochrome history and were often seen in full color. Not only were card makers making a rainbow of cards, embossing techniques and intricate shapes were used as well!

Later in the century the cards became even more ingenious, the exiting "hidden name" card was born! On these lovely little mementos the users name was printed onto the card, with a prettily designed flap covering the name, often inscribed with a sentimental message. The receiver would lift the flap to see who left the card!

Victorian Visiting Cards
Victorian Hidden Name Card

Modern Cards

Though fairly uncommon, the visiting card is still used today.They are once again plain, printed in black on a white or off white card with the givers name, and for women over 18 and men, their title (if you do not wish to use Mrs a woman can omit the title still). Size is also an important factor, these depend on the sex, and marital status of the giver...

Children twelve and younger: 2 1/4 by 1 3/8 inches
Single women: 2 7/8 by 2 inches
Married women: 3 1/8 by 2/14 inches
Men: 3 3/8 by 1 1/2 inches or 3 1/2 by 2 inches
Married couple: 3 3/8 by 2 1/2 inches

They are handed out at social occasions, enclosed in gifts and invitations, though usually if it is sent, such as with a present, it would be placed in it's own envelope first.

Subcultural Cards

Beyond formal society, groups who have an affinity for the fancy or oldworld manners and etiquette such as Goths and Lolita might still use an elaborate visiting card to keep in contact with people they meet at events, meet ups and parties. Here they again show off the taste of the giver, but also add an air of novelty to the meeting. These cards are of course less formal and more fun! plus what better way to really make an impression and begin an acquaintance with a new friend?

Make your own cards

As with all items outside the mainstream, fancy girls visiting cards are hard, if not impossible to come by, so the easiest path might be to make your own!

First pick your style

Emily Post wrote at in the 1st half of the 20th century " A fantastic or garish note in the type effect, in the quality or shape of the card, betrays a lack of taste in the owner of the card." today a lack of such frippery might show a deficit in taste for a follower of lolita fashion. In this case the more decoration that goes into a card, will display the style, taste and skill of the card giver in a subculture governed by adornment.


2 2 of my hand made visiting cards based on popular victorian motifs. I added a little extra glamour by sticking small bows, crystals and gold paper on them.

For those with a historical bent, the aim might be more towards recreating the artful cards of the past. Here are a few tips on creating your own marvelous visiting cards, and really leaving an impression as you move through fancy society...


Obviously you can create a card on your computer, and just print and cut, or even get your images printed at a local business card supplier. For the at home card maker items like the embossing stamp and paper punch before can bring a wonderful Victorian look to your cards! You can find these at most craft stores.

What to Include?

Whilst traditionally visits would all be paid in person (and every one knew where every one lived). These days with the phone and internet, they are so many layers we can use before opening our doors to a new acquaintance. As well as your name you might chose to include your email, blog or website. this gives a way to start getting to know someone, without having to sit down to tea right away! It's also possible to hand write extra details onto your card. This not only leaves your card selective, but it makes the person receiving the card feel good knowing that you don't give every one this kind of information!

Carrying, and Giving

Once you have your cards made up, reaching into your pocket to pull out a bent and fluff covered card rather spoils the effect.

Ladies would carry splendid card cases to keep their visiting cards in and so can you! Antique card holders can still be found in good condition, and many stationary supply stores carry business card holders perfect for the job (and for decorating!)

Card holders were made in everything from silver to silk. I have a small embroidered satin holder for my cards. separated into business and pleasure!


At home traditionally a small tray was carried by a butler or maid in which a visiting card was placed. Sometimes a dish or tray was placed near the entrance, much more practical by today's standards!

When out and about keep any cards you receive in your card holder, and transfer them to your tray once you get them safely home!

If you want more info on the etiquette and codes of visiting cards, check out some of the links below. If you are just all about the novelty and want to have some fun, I hope this feature inspired you to get creative with some cards!


Etiquette [Post 1922] (full article in the link)

Crane's Wedding Blue Book [ Feinberg 1993]


Book of days

American Antiquarian Society

Regency Social Calls

Ray's of Light

Art of Manliness (boys can be fancy too!)

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