The History Of The Glorious English Summer Season
With the cancellation of many of the highlights that we took for granted in the past, our summer social calendar might look rather lacking this year. Due to the lockdown enforced by the pandemic, Henley, Wimbledon, horse racing and various other stalwarts of what has for decades been known amongst the high society as ‘the season’ have been called off this year. But necessity is the mother of invention, and various historic institutions have brilliantly pivoted to arrange digital platforms so, for example, one will still be able to enjoy, from the comfort of one’s home, the opening jazz festival kicking off the Henley Regatta. Because, despite the challenges right now, the summer season and its social whirl has weathered many changes across the centuries and 2020 will be no different.
The famous Cecil Beaton-designed Ascot scene in My Fair Lady was accurate; “every duke and earl and peer is here/everyone who should be here is here”. The summer season was a chance for English aristocracy to see and be seen in the most important environs, and drink in the scenes of revelry before autumn descended and life became more confined to indoors. The summer season evolved in the 18th century as titled inhabitants of grand country estates would, as harvest season got underway and their land became less peaceful, make their way into town.
The season formally would begin with the ritual of being presented at court; a young debutante’s introduction to society in the hope of finding a husband. It would end officially (and still does) on The Glorious Twelfth, the 12th August, a date when estates would begin grouse hunting season and the Mayfair lords and ladies would make their way back to their country abodes to partake in the shoots and hole up for autumn.
And in between, a whirlwind of activity filled up the social calendar. By the 19th century, certain key events had become sacrosanct; the Chelsea Flower Show, which began in 1913, would commence in May and usually culminate in a visit from the reigning monarch, a tradition that began with the current queen’s grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary. From there the well-heeled socialites would migrate to Glyndebourne in appropriately flowing summer gowns to listen to opera while enjoying picnics on the lawn.
From there, Fulham beckoned, and the chukkas and divots of the Guards Polo Club’s polo and its champagne and strawberries. Then the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition launch, which is one of the oldest in the social season calendar, dating to 1768, which had the added benefit of a grand staircase ascent while the great and the good of the courtyard looked on - all the better for showcasing their finest attire.
By June and July sporting pursuits took over - Ascot, Wimbledon and the Henley Regatta back to back in June. Dress code for the former has remained one of the most stringent throughout the decades; a morning suit and top hat to enter the prestigious Royal Enclosure is de rigueur as is a dress at least to just above the knee, with straps at least an inch thick for a lady.
Of course, grooming forms an integral part of the process to spruce oneself up for a big event. The warmer climes of summer call for lighter scents, so opt for something zesty like our West Indian Limes Cologne, or the soft, natural aroma of our Freshman Cologne, with notes of lemon, orange blossom and bergamot.
Many of the events of summer call are open air, and some require hats, so a hard-working grooming product to keep your hair in place is advisable; our Brillantine Pomade is lightweight, but provides solid hold and is designed to lend a polished, debonair look. Tuck one of our Small Ox Horn Combs into your inside blazer pocket, and your hair will be pin sharp even while negotiating blustery weather and boater hats. Likewise, keep your hands in excellent condition - they’ll be on show as you sip that champagne on a sun-drenched lawn. Our Small Manicure Set, in an exquisitely crafted leather case, will do the job nicely.
The fashion, the hairstyles and grooming regimes may have changed over the years, but the proud sense of pageantry to the summer season, as well as the chance to celebrate the country’s long-established traditions, as well as cultural and sporting highlights, remains. It’s a showcase of the best of British that will return triumphant in sunnier times.