Archive for April, 2009

RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Blooms from 2008's show

Blooms from 2008's show

The first of the major events in the season is the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show. For newcomers to the event, it may be interesting to note that this event has not always been held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Before it arrived in SW3, the society used Chiswick House (this ceased in 1858), the site of what is now the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, and then under canvas in Temple Garden on the Embankment, before moving to where it is today.

There is no stringent dress code, but smarter visitors wear blazers and ties. Ladies often wear skirts and jackets or suits, but not usually hats.  However, it is the end of spring and nearing the start of summer, so the weather can be mixed. Try to prepare for rain and shine and possibly have a rain hat, rather than an umbrella which gets in the way in crowds and can block other people’s views.

Members of the RHS have the advantage of being able to book tickets in advance and two days are set-aside for members only. There is also a private Royal preview which The Queen always attends and other family members, on the Monday, with an evening Charity Gala Evening, used by the great and the good for corporate entertainment. This is followed on Tuesday and Wednesday for RHS Members and then three days for the public, with a fabulous opportunity on Saturday for bargains as stall holders and garden designers sell off their ‘used’ wares.

There are lots of loos but they do border on the primitive and long queues can be expected for the ladies’!

If you are still in any doubt as to the event’s protocol or what to wear, please do feel free to reply to this blog with any questions you may have. Alternatively, please visit our main website for more information: http://www.theenglishmanner.com

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

Thanks a Million

I was staying in a bed and breakfast earlier this week and my host and I started discussing good manners, in particular thank-you letters. She told me the most brilliant story, which shows that you should always write such letters after receiving a present or any sort of hospitality.

As children, her sister and her were always sent one pound for Christmas and respective birthdays from a distant relative on their father’s side. At the time, £1 was worth considerably more than it is today. The one-pound kept coming and both sisters wrote, without fail a letter to say thank you to the relative. By the time the sisters for in their mid-forties, the pounds were still being sent and one sister (not my host – her sibling) decided that it was a bit silly now as £1 wasn’t worth much at all and writing a thank-you letter was ridiculous. However, my host still kept on writing the letters.

One year, the money stopped. My host got a call from the relative’s solicitor to say that the relative had died and in her will had left her £250,000 but the other sister was left nothing. The will stated that my host had been left the money because she had “better manners and always said thank-you”.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

In Season: What To Wear

Two weeks ago, I commented on The Season in general. Now, as the start is less than a month away, here are a few dos and don’ts on dress codes to help you navigate this social juggernaut for some of the main events.

Chelsea Flower Show
Probably the most relaxed event in terms of dress code, and it is all in the entrance here.  Take the bus, tube or arrive by taxi, but be prepared to queue at the gates so arrive as early as you can.  Essentially, you are here to look at the flowers and gardens, and not on a fashion parade, so understated investment dressing is the key here:  depending on the weather go for light suits or dresses and jackets, and do remember a lot of walking is involved, so wear comfortable shoes.  If you are attending the private view then cocktail dress of course, but the men can get by all day in a crisp blazer and chinos with well-polished loafers.

Polo
Don’t, whatever you do, dress down.  Polo is probably the most high-profile of the season’s events, and attracts not only an international crowd but also seems to be a magnet for the celebrity crowd, from jet setting movie star to B-lister wannabee.  If the weather is good, team a pretty summer dress with the highest Jimmy Choos, or wear a chic trouser suit.  The latest designer sunglasses are a must-have – but do make sure that if you are invited into the Royal tea tent, you remove them out of the glare!  Men can get by with a blazer and well pressed trousers – the more one imitates the well-dressed smooth good looks of George Clooney, the better!

Royal Ascot
416_ascot_royal_416x300Morning suits and top hats are de-rigeur, as of course are the most fabulous hats.  Trousers for ladies are now permitted, but skirts must not be far above the knee, and if you are hoping to enter the Royal Enclosure you will need to apply for a sponsored badge many months in advance, with a reference from a member of the Royal Enclosure.  Top hats should always be black silk, and morning suits can be grey or black – my own preference is grey.  Ladies Day is the traditional one to ‘be seen’, when even the more conservative hat-wearer can really push the boat out.  A word of caution though:  if you are not used to wearing a hat, practice putting it on and off and wearing it around the house several times before the big day, and learn to relax – otherwise you will have severe neck strain and a bad headache before you go near the champagne!

Cowes
The cult brands of Jack Wills, Musto and Joules will be raking in the money this year as sailing appears to have taken off again – if it ever went out of fashion.  For spectators, stick to looking the part in deck shoes, sunglasses, windproof gear and a chance to wear that perfect Hermes headscarf – and there are plenty of wonderful wellies around if the weather is wet.  A plug here for the wonderful work of the RNLI – spare a thought for this entirely volunteer-led organisation which aims to raise some £131 million a year to maintain the fleet of rescue craft and on-shore lifeguards.  There is rarely a day when crews do not risk their lives to save others at sea so, if you are attending any sailing event this year, pop a coin into the nearest donation box;  you never know when you may need them!

Alexandra Messervy
Founder, The English Manner

Badminton May Horse Trials

One of the regular features on this blog will be postings regarding dress codes and etiquette for sporting events in the British Season. We have already commented on The Season in general. This week, we begin our quick insights into each major event with next month’s Badminton Horse Trials.

Badminton House

Badminton House

Set in the park of Badminton House in Gloucestershire, the three-day horse trials are an annual event, which began in 1949. The cross-country day at Badminton attracts crowds of about a quarter of a million people, the largest for any paid-entry sporting event in the UK. Although it is said to be ‘three-day eventing’, the trials actually take place over four. The Thursday and Friday are for dressage; the Saturday for cross-country and the Sunday for show-jumping.

As with many social events in the British season, we at The English Manner start to get many enquires asking us what the correct dress code is for this event, which this year takes place from 7th-10th May.

It is advised that your choice of clothes is ‘country’ and that sensible shoes are worn. ‘Country’ does not mean what one would wear to go walking or rambling in the fields, but instead it infers tweeds or rustic fabrics. For those that hope to enjoy the corporate hospitality in the Portcullis Club or company marquees, it is requested that you wear jackets and suitable ties (no novelty ones, please!).

Badminton is known for its stringent rules on dress. The New Zealander Mark Todd rode two-thirds on the 1995 cross-country course on his horse with only one stirrup before getting disqualified at an inspection the next day.

If you are still in any doubt as to what to wear, please do feel free to reply to this blog with any more questions on the event you may have. Alternatively, visit our main website for more information: http://www.theenglishmanner.com

The Greatest Minefield of All: The Season

The ‘Season’ begins in just under a month’s time and is a uniquely British thing.  In these days of a so-called classless society it is quite amazing that this totally inimitable feat of social engineering continues to hold such sway.  Perhaps it is entirely because it is such a change from the mundane that it remains so popular!

The Season came about primarily in the 19th century, and its heyday was reached during the reign of the gregarious King Edward VII.  Since then, we have witnessed two world wars, banking crashes and the horrors of the credit crunch, and whilst there are bound to be some financial casualties this year, particularly where corporate sponsorship is concerned, many of the events of ‘the season’ seem to attract ever increasing crowds.  Attendance at most is not cheap, but because corporate sponsorship has boosted entry many people will be invited to at least one event this year through work or friends.  Our intention is to give a basic guide – but do email us for more specific assistance!

Blooms from 2008's show

Blooms from 2008's RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Debutantes went out in the 1950s as a result of The Queen’s ‘modernisation of the Monarchy’, although the Berkeley Dress Show and the Paris Crillon Ball have been revived to rave reviews – aspiring young ladies no longer need to be presented at Court, nor do they necessarily want to find a wealthy and eligible bachelor for long term wedded bliss, but instead perhaps enjoy a chance to show off a pretty dress and meet some new friends, whilst the aspirations of good manners, correct dress codes and a little bit of gentility in our increasingly hectic lives is cutting the mustard.

Officially, the ‘season’ is a three month period from May to July when in days gone by, the Court and fashionable society were in town (London).  During winter months, the ruling classes spent time at their country estates hunting, shooting and fishing – nowadays many do not even own one home let alone two – but the Chelsea Flower Show, this year from 18th May, continues to herald the start.

The English Manner always has a presence at Chelsea, usually with guests who are taking part in one of our guided garden tours, and if the weather is good, it is a wonderfully English way to kick-start summer.  The Derby follows, and then Royal Ascot, possibly the most famous race meeting in the world, presenting an opportunity to wear that fabulous outfit and out of this world hat, whilst picnicking on smoked salmon, strawberries and champagne at the side of the course – in Number One car park, of course!

After Ascot and The Queen’s Birthday Parade, we have Wimbledon, Glorious Goodwood and the Festival of Speed, and for the sailing fraternity, The Royal Henley Regatta and Cowes Week, preceded by Cartier International Polo Day – always a firm fixture in the social calendar and now attracting a celebrity crowd from all over the world.

Packed tightly in between all of these are myriad charity events, timed to perfection to attract the most likely donors, and to give credibility to all that partying!  Coupled with the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair and Hampton Court Flower Show, those who have the money, the time and the inclination, can have a jolly good time!

Of all the summer events, I think Royal Ascot is probably the one we think of more often than not when we talk about ‘the Season’, and it was here that the term ‘Royal Enclosure’ began.  King George IV invented the idea of entertaining his private friends, and the idea of a private or select area quickly caught on for Centre Court at Wimbledon, the Stewards’ Enclosure at Henley – where entry is even more restricted than Ascot – and the Member’s Enclosures at Polo.  As the names imply, entry is limited, often to the cognoscenti and ‘who you know’, and there are essential elements of dressing up as well as certain rules and traditions.

As ‘the season’ unfolds, we will give you some do’s and don’ts on protocol and customs.

Alexandra Messervy
Founder, The English Manner


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