2 Jul 2021

'Tis The Season

This week saw the return of Wimbledon, an erstwhile garden-party tournament, which began in 1877 and is one of the world’s favourite sporting events. With its immaculate grass tennis courts, smartly dressed crowds and marquees dispensing quintessential British summer treats such as Pimms and strawberries, Wimbledon is a genteel reminder of everything we have missed over the last year.

The return of some of the key events of the traditional British Season is a sure sign that we are slowly, and cautiously, returning to normality. Covid restrictions (and unpredictable British weather) notwithstanding, the Season is an opportunity to dress up, see and be seen, and enjoy the undoubted glamour of these long-standing events.

A History of The Season

The traditional Season was defined by the movements of the royal family, who were in residence in the capital from April to July and from October until Christmas. During these months, the aristocracy and members of the ruling classes made it their custom to reside in London.

By the late 18th century the Social Season had become firmly anchored in the marriage market for the upper echelons of society. Well-bred girls became ‘debutantes’ when they were launched into society at the age of 17 or 18 with a formal introduction to the monarch and a debut at the high-profile ball, followed by a whirlwind six months of parties, dances and special events. Gradually these events – which ranged from balls and concerts to sporting events and horseracing – became milestones in the British social calendar, a socially circumscribed ritual that changed very little until the middle of the 20th century.

What is The Season?

Today, the traditional Season, with its trappings of debutantes, Court presentations, balls and parties, has all but disappeared. What remains, however, is a well-loved round of events that are still regarded as highlights of the British social calendar. Many of them have returned in 2021, so brush up on your dress codes, dust down your picnic hamper, and get ready for a truly social summer.

Highlights of the Season

The remaining highlight of the flat racing season is Glorious Goodwood (Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby have been and gone). This prestigious racing festival (27–31 July) is attended by the racing aristocracy and celebrities, and the emphasis is on smart clothes, flamboyant hats, champagne and picnic hampers.

As an island nation we are preoccupied by the sea, and the joy of sailing has become enshrined in our social calendar with historic events such as Cowes and Dartmouth Royal Regatta (26–28 August). These tests of sailing skills originate in the early 19th century, when gentlemen of leisure began to take an active interest in yachting.

One of the most historic yachting events, and a firm fixture on the calendar of the social season, is Cowes Week (31 July–7 August), which dates back to 1826. We also enjoy a venerable tradition of competitive rowing in the UK, which was seen as a suitable sport for gentlemen amateurs. In 1829 a rowing race challenge was held between teams representing Oxford and Cambridge at Henley-on-Thames. While the university boat race moved to a course nearer London in 1839, competitive rowing continued at Henley, and another milestone in the English social season, the Henley Royal Regatta (29 June–4 July), was born.


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