If you were a young lady during England’s Regency period (1811-1820) you looked forward to your release from the schoolroom and presentation to Society and the Season the way young women today look forward to their High School prom. But the Season was more, so much more, that a single fabulous night. It was a series of parties, soirees and dinners.
For a young lady of seventeen or eighteen, the first excitement came when her wardrobe was refurbished and expanded to include all of the ball gowns, riding habits, walking dresses, day dresses and most importantly, a court dress. If all went well during the Season, the elaborate court dress as shown in this illustration from 1810 may eventually be remade into her wedding dress.
The ladies also were finally allowed to wear their hair up and could accompany their parents to dinner parties and balls. Girls were tutored to amuse their neighbors at the table and were always accompanied by their family or chaperones. At dances, they were not permitted to drift away from their chaperone and men had to go to the chaperone to obtain a dance partner and return the young lady to her chaperone when the dance concluded. No walking out to the gardens alone with a man!
The Season started after Christmas when men returned to London to attend Parliament. While this meant some families went early in January or February, most did not travel to London until after the Easter holidays. That’s when the Season really started, and it generally lasted for the next three months.
If you were a young lady, your first order of business would be presentation at Court. You would be fitted for a gown with hoops and a long train, and then drilled on performing a deep curtsey and walking backwards in your gown without tripping and falling over your skirts and train. Presentation was actually a very brief ceremony. Dressed in her white court gown, the young lady would have her name announced by the Lord Chamberlain. She’d walk forward toward the seated monarch and curtsey. Then she would curtsey to any other royals present and back out, hopefully without tripping. Under no circumstances could she turn her back on the monarch.
Once presented at court, the young lady could begin the exciting whirl of events including galas, concerts, private balls and dances. Dinner parties were often held on Wednesday or Saturday since there were no evening sessions of Parliament on those days. As you may guess, one of the main purposes of the Season was to introduce eligible girls to men, who were concentrated in London due to Parliament. So many of the entertainments were scheduled very late in the day. They had to wait until the men “got off work”.
The Season was definitely a highlight in a woman's life--the doorway to love. While the ladies in my Regencies, I Bid One American and The Bricklayer's Helper, may not be the belles of the ball, they take part in the festivities and it forever changes their lives.