The British social season originated in the 17th century when the upper classes followed the court to London during the summer months to take part in social events and introduce their daughters into society – and, by extension, an eligible husband.
While this world of debutantes and strategic matchmaking may be a thing of the past, an unofficial Season still thrives. As the weather warms up, so too does a calendar of sporting and cultural events, featuring music festivals, racing, regattas, horticulture and horse shows throughout the summer.
Many of the key events of the Season are also opportunities to dress up according to time-honoured traditions. Each venue tends to have its own exceptions and eccentricities, however, so it’s best to check in advance and stick closely to the rules – it’s rare that officials will turn a blind eye to a dress code breach!
Glyndebourne Opera Festival
Mid-May – Mid-August
Black tie is customary at this East Sussex opera festival, where productions this year include Madame Butterfly and Rosenkavalier. The surroundings offset the elegant eveningwear, with the lovely lawns of the opera house looking on to the South Downs. Unless they’re dining at one of the onsite restaurants, Glyndebourne-goers bring picnics to enjoy during the 90-minute interval.
19th – 23rd June
Now more than 300 years old, this venerable five-day race meeting has been associated with high fashion and the best in formal dressing since its very beginning. The members’-only Royal Enclosure has a strict dress code that stipulates traditional morning dress, including hats or substantial headpieces for women. The Queen Anne and Village Enclosures require formal day dress, which means men may wear lounge suits as an alternative to morning suits, with hats or fascinators required for women.
Henley Royal Regatta
4th – 8th July
Henley’s famous five-day rowing regatta attracts international crews, Olympic champions and spectators from around the world. Dress codes apply in ticketed areas and are very strict in the Stewards’ Enclosure and Leander Club, where men wear suits or rowing blazers. In these areas, women are not allowed to wear trousers but are encouraged to wear hats, and skirts should fall below the knee in the Stewards’. Outside of these enclosures, spectators opt for summer dresses, linen suits or colourful blazers to follow the action while picknicking on the riverbanks.
The Last Night of the Proms
The Promenade or ‘Prom’ concerts take place in the Royal Albert Hall over eight weeks in the summer. The famous Last Night is the most popular, and usually includes a sequence of patriotic pieces in the concluding half – always featuring a resounding Rule Britannia. Fancy dress, often incorporating the Union Jack, is popular in the arena (standing area) – and cool clothes are advisable as it can become very warm.