DO wait to be introduced to someone
Introductions were a complex business in the Regency era and breaking from the accepted norms would be a massive breach of etiquette. And, as might be expected, introductions between members of the opposite sex or indeed between two people of different social standing, would be especially complex. Fortunately for the lady, the fact that societal rules dictated that men take the lead in making a formal introduction minimized the chances of a faux-pas and so end up being the talk of the town.
Quite simply, it was not the done thing to simply go up to a stranger and start talking to them – no matter how dashing a gentleman might be. Instead, a lady needed to wait until she was formally introduced to a person before they could start to interact socially. Usually, introductions were made by the ‘man of the house’. At other times, elderly – and respected – matrons, mothers, local parsons or their wives, might introduce people. Some individuals or even whole families prided themselves on their abilities to serve as the go-between and set people up, allowing them to interact with one another without causing a scandal.
As a rule, an introduction could not be made without the express permission of the people involved. Moreover, if one person enjoyed a higher social rank than the other, then he or she needed to give their consent to having a lower-ranking stranger introduced to them. A person of a higher rank could simply decline an invitation to an introduction, no questions asked! To shun such an opportunity was not regarded as rudeness but rather accepted as the ‘done thing’. In comparison, a lower-ranked individual, and in particular a lady, introducing themselves to a gentleman without permission or a go-between (think of the scandal the uncouth Mr Collins causes when he introduced himself to his superior Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice).
Even once a lady had been introduced to another female or to a gentleman, strict societal rules still applied. At no point must a lady refer to a gentleman by his first name. Instead, she must call him by his family name or, where applicable, by his title. Additionally, just like in period dramas and historical movies, upon meeting, the lady was expected to bow at the shoulders slightly, while a gentleman was expected to greet a lady with a modest, not exaggerated, bow from the waist.