Monday, June 28, 2010

'Tis The Season

No, I have not been afflicted with brain-melt due to the San Joaquin Valley heat and projected my mind forward 6 months in a desperate attempt to cool down! I know it is summertime and that is our theme. But for me, since I do live a good portion of my time in a world 200 years in the past, I began thinking about what summertime meant for the English elite of the Regency Era. And that boils down to one common phrase: The Season.

The English custom of the elite in society passing months in London rather than their country homes began somewhere in the 17th century and continued to dominate the culture until well after WWI. Roughly coinciding with the sitting of Parliament, the official Season launched in earnest after Easter and ran until August when Parliament adjourned. The purpose was originally a time for the aristocracy and landed gentry to gather in Town to discuss politics and workings of State, but quickly evolved into a period of socialization and entertainment.

Events such as The Derby and the Royal Ascot horse races were essential to attend. Strolling or riding along the promenade Rotten Row in Hyde Park was on every agenda during the cooler afternoon. Balls and private parties occurred nightly at dozens of places and invitations were coveted. Salons sprung up, those intimate gatherings hosted by certain glittering members of the ton where the elite mingled with artists and scientists in lively discussions. If not at one of those, then it was a concert or opera or stage play. The point was to see and be seen! Not a day or night was wasted, especially if you were young and/or unmarried.
And that, my friends, was the real reason for The Season. Each social engagement was designed to advance a family’s prestige and how better to do that than through marriage? Class structure ruled and no one forgot the importance of connections. While dancing and dining, impressions were made that had generational effects so that even if without children anywhere near marriageable age, a family was thinking ahead. Business affairs handled by gentlemen over brandy and cigars at White’s and Boodle’s were at least partially about ascending the social ladder while hopefully increasing one’s wealth. Ladies’ gossip while shopping and sipping tea displayed one’s refinement, character, and knowledge of the world. Picking a partner was typically not as much about romance and love as it was about which family offered a son or daughter with the highest standards.

Ask yourself – If I were a debutante of the ton and it was the first decade of the 19th century, how would my summer proceed?

Before you could attend any of the numerous society events scheduled you would be presented, by appointment, to the reigning monarch, in this case His Royal Highness the Prince Regent. Male or female, being presented to the Court of St. James was an elaborate affair with every movement, word, and garment strictly dictated. Heaven forbid you messed up in the tiniest way or your future as a member of the elite, and most importantly in the marriage market, could be destroyed or severely impacted!

Naturally there would be fun with a plethora of soirees, operas and plays, museum exhibits, sporting events, horse races, and at the top of the list, dances. For the latter, Almack’s Assembly was the crème de la crème. Acceptance into Almack’s was all-important. Being denied admission by the Lady Patronesses who controlled every aspect of social life for the unmarried, down to setting the fashion styles and rules of conduct, truly was the death knell for an appropriate marriage.

The weeks from April to July or August were an exhausting but exhilarating whirl of activity. On a typical day luncheon would be taken with guests followed by the entire afternoon spend “calling” for brief 10-30 minute visits to as many friends as possible. Shopping, tours to museums or daytime sporting events filled other hours. From 4pm to 7pm it was the “fashionable hour” – that period to flirt, greet friends, and show off one’s wardrobe and equipage at Hyde Park’s Rotten Row. Then it was home to dress for dinner, that lasting up to 3 hours. Afterwards, it was the opera or perhaps a ball. Maybe both! Do not expect to lay your head down until 2 or 3am, and then get up and do it all again.
Ah! To be young! Not sure about you, but our modern way of lazy summer fun by the pool sounds better to me. Until I think of a handsome man in tight breeches with courtly manners asking me to dance. Hmmm……

16 comments:

  1. I loved your blog, Sharon! I was so excited about it, I got up at 3 to post a comment. :) Super pictures and yes! I'd love to dance with eligible bachelors in tight pants--them wearing them, not me. :) It was probably cooler there too, so not so beastly hot as here where we'd prefer swimming pools instead!!! Great post!

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  2. Very interesting and makes me glad I live in the 21 Century! Give me my AC, pools, and mass transit...movie theaters and shopping malls. All air conditioned!

    Corsets, long skirts, high neck, tight sleeves, no thanks. Tight pants on a hunk, any time! lol

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  3. I cannot imagine wearing clothes like that in this weather. It boggles the mind! I HOPE it was cooler there!

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  4. Sharon, I hung on every word. I loved the complete yet concise way you explained the Season. I'm going to try to copy and print what you wrote as an easy reference guide! Thanks, Amelia

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  5. Great blog, Sharon! Thanks for sharing.

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  6. THIS is why I love the Regency period!

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  7. Good morning everyone! Just rising here on the West Coast.

    LOL, Terry! Let the manly men wear the tight pants, absolutely! Yes, it is a bit cooler in England, so I understand, but humid and warmer than one might expect. Especially in all those layers of clothes. I love writing it, but can't imagine how it would feel wearing it!

    Jessica, I am with you to a degree. I definitely want my AC and mass transit (carriage riding never sounds all that appealing, IMO), but the lavish parties and cultural events do sound wonderful. I think I could get used to that lifestyle!

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  8. Cheryl, the men had it worse. Shirt, waistcoat, jacket, and layered cravat, even in a lightweight fabric, would have been so hot. Ladies garments in the Regency were actually very light with stays (corset) short and optional, and no petticoats underneath. Their trouble came in winter!

    Ah, thanks Amelia. As if you don't know all of this information better than me. I did try to keep it concise as there is so much more to be said about how Regency folks passed the time!

    Thanks Robin! Glad you enjoyed.

    So true, Shana. It was a glittering time of so many wonderful delights. Writing about it is endless fun!

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  9. I think of London in the heat and all those clothes they had to wear. Ugh. Yes, I'm still not a fan of summer and can't imagine doing it all dolled up like that - or like down South here in the States. Mint Juleps only do so much...

    Wonderful info, Sharon!

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  10. I love this era and I think you captured it incredibly well, Sharon. Thank you for such an informative and enjoyable post!

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  11. Fantastic, informative blog. Reading about the Regency era is fun and fascinating, but living during that time would be an entirely different matter. No thank you.

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  12. Sharon, it's a good thing I live in the present. If a man with tight pants and courtly manners asked me to dance, I would (a) step on his feet; (b) trample other partners; and (c) yell out "yee-ha" at the most inopportune moments. All because I was (d) unable to take my eyes from those tight pants.
    I'd make a terrible Regency lass!

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  13. Sharon,

    My critique partner writes regencies and I've been absolutely amazed by some of the restrictions these poor/rich people had to put up with!

    I would totally blow any chance of a decent marriage by wearing as few layers as I could legally get away with, tripping and falling down a grand staircase once or twice a night and spilling soup down my décolletage.

    Ash

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  14. Only if I can dance with Knightly. :}

    The gowns, the sheer elegance of the Season. I like it.

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  15. Poor Judi! Maybe a Scottish Highlander would be better for you!

    Joanne, I totally laughed out loud at your comment! Good thing I was not drinking my espresso at the time! Think I could get away with writing a cowboy at a Regency soiree? It would be great fun to hear a Yee-haw erupt during the waltz!

    Ashlyn, you might be amazed how few layers a Regency gal could get away with! Especially if you went with French Empire style. ;-) Spilling down an exposed decolletage probably wouldn't bother any of the men at the Assembly. LOL!

    Knightley before Darcy, Linda?!

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  16. I LOVE the regency - if only I could go back in time to do a season! Of course while we're changing things around some I'd like to be younger, thinner, and richer too! What fun it would be!

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