Origins of the British Social Season
The English ‘Season’ occurs during the spring and summer months, originating in the 17th century and springing from the Royal Court’s summer residence in London. A series of balls, receptions and sporting events, with the highlight being when the daughters of the aristocracy could be presented to the Court. These social events were a chance to introduce these daughters into society, and by extension, to an eligible husband. A sort of coming of age, debutante affair.
Today, these whirlwind months of parties, balls and sporting events take advantage of our glorious summer weather, are attended by many more people, and with less formality and rigour. Following World War Two the strict social parameters of the Season were relaxed. Certain events were terminated all together, such as the practice of Court Presentation of upper-class daughters, while other events became much more widely attended, including Cowes Week, now the largest sailing regatta in the world.
English Traditions, Quirks and Eccentricities
Layers of fabulous time-honoured traditions and quirky eccentricities permeate the English season, and in many enclosures formal dress codes are strictly adhered to, be it mourning suits, substantial headpieces, or rowing blazers.
In such enclosures, rules are rules (not guide lines!) and the subtler traditions and etiquette are considered intricate enough by some to warrant formal coaching and insight. For example, taking your phone out in an enclosure during the Henley Regatta is a huge faux pas, even if on silent! Debrett’s, the true ‘experts on British etiquette since 1769’, offer a half day programme to teach ‘The British Social Season’, for a mere £3,750.
More of a Relaxed Affair
Fear not, for those with a smaller budget who wish to watch in person the same events as the Queen, many regular tickets and stands contain no dress codes and can cost the same as a cinema ticket. Are there any other top level sporting events, music festivals or classic car shows where you can pay £10 or £30 to witness world class athletes, shows and Operas at their finest?
The British Social Season Calendar
From the Chelsea Flower Show, which kicks off the English Season in May, to the Cartier International Polo or the Goodwood Festival of Speed there is variety enough between these events to entertain all! Here are the top few picks for your diary in 2019:
Glyndebourne Opera Festival – One of the world’s oldest and most celebrated opera festivals. Outdoor black-tie picnics create a fashionable (if unusual) parade. May through to August.
Chelsea Flower Show, London, Britain’s most prestigious flower show, founded in 1804 and organised by the Royal Horticultural Society. 21-25 May.
The Derby – or Epsom Derby – Britain’s richest horse race, watched with picnics on top of the hill, or in top hats and tails in the stands. 1 June.
The Royal Ascot – with Royal Processions, bandstands and top-class racing; showcasing the best racehorses in the world for over 250 years. 18-22 June.
Henley Royal Regatta – the best-known regatta in the world, founded in 1839. 3-7 July.
Goodwood Festival of Speed – a celebration of motorsport, classic cars and formula one drivers. 4-7 July.
The International Day (Cartier) – One of the highest profile sporting events in the British summer calendar. Guards Polo Club, Windsor Great Park. 27 July
Cowes Week – largest sailing regatta in the world, with over 8,500 competitors taking part. Isle of Wight, 10-17 August.