Emily Post, an American author famous for writing about etiquette, offered tips for sitting gracefully in her book: Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home. The book was published in 1922, so some references are dated. But we hope you still enjoy and learn from it as much as we did.
HOW TO SIT GRACEFULLY
Having shaken hands with the hostess, the visitor, whether a lady or a gentleman, looks about quietly, without hurry, for a convenient chair to sit down upon, or drop into.
To sit gracefully one should not perch stiffly on the edge of a straight chair, nor sprawl at length in an easy one. The perfect position is one that is easy, but dignified.
In other days, no lady of dignity ever crossed her knees, held her hands on her hips, or twisted herself sideways, or even leaned back in her chair! To-day all these things are done; and the only etiquette left is on the subject of how not to exaggerate them.
No lady should cross her knees so that her skirts go up to or above them; neither should her foot be thrust out so that her toes are at knee level. An arm a-kimbo is not a graceful attitude, nor is a twisted spine!
Everyone, of course, leans against a chair back, except in a box at the opera and in a ballroom, but a lady should never throw herself almost at full length in a reclining chair or on a wide sofa when she is out in public. Neither does a gentleman in paying a formal visit sit on the middle of his backbone with one ankle supported on the other knee, and both as high as his head.
The proper way for a lady to sit is in the center of her chair, or slightly sideways in the corner of a sofa. She may lean back, of course, and easily; her hands relaxed in her lap, her knees together, or if crossed, her foot must not be thrust forward so as to leave a space between the heel and her other ankle. On informal occasions she can lean back in an easy chair with her hands on the arms.
In a ball dress a lady of distinction never leans back in a chair; one can not picture a beautiful and high-bred woman, wearing a tiara and other ballroom jewels, leaning against anything. This is, however, not so much a rule of etiquette as a question of beauty and fitness.
A gentleman, also on very formal occasions, should sit in the center of his chair; but unless it is a deep lounging one, he always leans against the back and puts a hand or an elbow on its arms.