A great deal of the gentry who make up that spiffing elite called Society reside in castles and manors on vast estates in the country and need to visit London on occasion to take care of various business matters, snort through the foul air and — historically — attend Parliament, which sits from February through August. It is this popular jaunt from the country and the various festivities of the period that we call the London Season. This has also been the alluring stretch of time in which anxious parents would hope to marry-off their daughters to the visiting nobility. Of course, the ladies and gentleman would always look their best during this social whirl, with a new outfit for each and every event.
Traditionally The Season is made up of a series of public and private affairs, taking in the arts (Glyndebourne, the Proms, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition): horticulture (Chelsea Flower Show); Equestrianism (Royal Ascot, Grand National, Royal Windsor Horse Show); sport (Wimbledon, the Boat Race); and Royal events such as Trooping the Colour.
It would be typical for numerous private functions (balls, dances, dinners and excursions) to be held on the mornings and evenings of the public events above. Such occasions would be for debutants to flirt their way into the affections of eligible gents. These arranged romances were – and still are in many respects – a serious business as once presented, a prospective bride could reasonably attend 50 balls, 60 parties, 30 dinners and 25 breakfasts all in one season. If she didn’t marry within two or three seasons, she was considered a failure, and at 30 a hopeless spinster. Fuelled by such anxieties, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibilities gives an energetic account of The Season.
Not much has changed since the height of The Season in the Victorian era. With the close of shooting season in February, the jamboree begins and modern events such as the Six Nations and the Guardian Hay Festival sit alongside the more traditional highlights such as the Eton-Harrow cricket match. To be sure, as long as there are available young men with money, pretty young girls and a garden party in which they can swirl, The Season will always be in swing. It offers bright mornings, long afternoons, lazy evenings and hardy nights of parties and private get-togethers. One soiree rolls into the next in a giddy haze of revealing unveilings, applause, contest and laughter. Long may it continue.