With Cheltenham Festival on the horizon, The Resident columnist Henry Conway, a consummate socialite, guides us on pride, prejudice and the art of dressing for ‘The Season’
‘Society’ seems a remote and outdated concept to many in London – a word that conjures up 1950s ballgowns, chauffeured Rolls Royces picking up quaffed debutantes at Annabel’s and the worst kind of get-ahead snobbery. Yet here we are, still entering the time of year known as ‘The Season’.
Despite the fact that coming out at court went out with the Coronation, and the idea of being a ‘deb’ is a historic quirk most young Chelsea girls saw their mothers rail against, there is no denying that the social season is still there, just thriving in an altered form. And thank goodness – someone has to keep dressmakers and milliners alive in London!
Social media would have you think that all the barriers have broken down, and there is no order to London in the summer, but it simply isn’t true. There is a parade of events that keep the higher echelons amused, and plenty of those who are increasingly accessing them for the first time.
The Chelsea Flower Show, Queen’s, Wimbledon, Royal Ascot – these traditional events of ‘The Season’ are alive, kicking and fully operational, modernised to a degree, but almost all retaining a backbone of rules, social and sartorial, that can be a quagmire for the uninitiated to traverse.
Social media would have you think that all the barriers have broken down, but it simply isn’t true. There is a parade of events that keep the higher echelons amused
I will agree that some can be outdated, but my take has always been that even as someone who wants to shake off the stuffiness and peacock like a 17th century dandy (moi), if you learn them, you can play them, then adapt them to your individuality.
Were I to go through every one of the unwritten rules of ‘Society’, it would take up the whole magazine, and after all you have Debretts doing a fine job at that. No, just picking apart a few should help. If you lay awake at night worrying you’ll put your foot in it, shake off that lack of courage, and apply yourself to any event with the fearlessness of Lord Nelson. I have had my fair share of being handed a club jacket, or having to turn a pashmina into a tie, so don’t worry.
Most social fixtures have sections devoted to their dress codes on their official websites – take heed of their advice, then go wild with colour and flourishes. Try not to be photographed by the Mail Online with a glass in your hand, and never be the last to leave the party – two self-imposed mantras I try to stick by, not always succeeding.
Whether you are a Marquis, Viscountess, digital marketing manager or a waitress on a day off, stick to your guns and when in doubt keep the behaviour in check with your outfit – formal wear, formal rules. People will judge what you wear whatever you decide to put on, so give them something to stare at.
As ‘The Season’ breaks, I am most often asked about hats – nothing could be more fussed over. I’m glad the big and bold has made a comeback, as fascinators were never my bag – you can’t shred an individual dyed feather, pop it on a headband and call it fashion.
Go with your personality – wide brimmed from William Chambers for Old Hollywood glam, a cheeky pillbox from Rachel Trevor-Morgan to look like Jackie Kennedy, and something avant-guard from Piers Atkinson to spice up that Little Black Dress.
Say it in straw, ostrich or silk, but whatever you do, be true to yourself – society battleaxes will forgive a newcomer, but always sniff out the disingenuous and sink them. Now that hunting is banned it’s a sport – don’t be a fox, be a peacock.