In early summer there is a veritable frisson of excitement in the British air as hats are ordered and diaries fill up. It can only mean one thing: it’s the start of the Season
Like many British traditions, the Season was established with the British Monarchy in mind; historically it was defined by the period in which the Royal Family was in residence in London.
A programme of social events was established in the 18th century to keep everyone entertained. The summer season from April to July was the peak time to be in London before the shooting season commenced and people retired back to the country.
Originally the Season began with debutante balls and court presentations as the younger generations were introduced into society and married off. However, events have multiplied throughout the years to keep high society busy and bustling throughout their season in the capital through a series of balls, sporting events and concerts.
This social season is bursting with dress codes, rules of etiquette and mild eccentricities – as the British do best. Here we take a look at a few of our favourites…
1. Glyndebourne Opera Festival
19 May-26 August 2018
Founded in 1934, Glyndebourne is the British home of opera. The annual festival presents six productions each summer to an audience in a stunning Sussex setting. The festival is renowned for its Mozart operas and is the home of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Performances at Glyndebourne begin in the afternoon to give revellers a summer’s day out in the country with time to travel down from London. The opera house itself stands in the manicured grounds next to John Christie’s country home. It was the Christie family who began the festival in the 1930s and who continue to take care of it today. Its sophisticated guests in black tie and eveningwear and picnics on the lawn distinguish Glyndebourne.
2. The Proms
13 July-8 September 2018
The Proms are one of the top two musical events (alongside Glyndebourne) in the array of events throughout the Season. Founded in 1895, the eight-week summer programme of concerts was originally held at Queen’s Hall in Langham Place, London, but after it was bombed in a raid during the Second World War in 1941, the event moved to the Royal Albert Hall as the founders Henry Wood and Robert Newman were keen to continue with their vision of providing a wide range of music to the people, whatever their circumstances. Concerts now take place in musical halls and in parks across the country. The event culminates with the Last Night of the Proms, which finishes the musical season in spectacular fashion; tickets are always highly sought-after. The dress codes and formalities of other events are not as prevalent at the Proms. Short for ‘promenade concerts’, the idea was for a relaxed affair where people could enjoy music in a garden party-style ambience.
Tip: Those attending the Proms are affectionately known as Prommers. Try not to be the first to clap – some Prommers get upset with those who clap in between movements. Hold back and follow the crowd in applauding.
3. Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
12 June-19 August 2018
As the world’s largest open-submission contemporary art exhibition, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (250 years old this year) draws in the country’s finest art lovers. The exhibition includes new and recent art created by both emerging artists and some of the biggest names in the art world. The preview party is the event to be seen at, which is held 10 days before the exhibition opens. Each year more than 150,000 people visit the exhibition to view the 1,200 works showcased including sculptures, prints, paintings and architecture.
4. Royal Ascot
19-23 June 2018
Since the first race meeting in 1711, the Ascot racecourse and its meetings have been a focal point of the British Season. It was Queen Anne who discovered the flat lands near Windsor Castle and founded the Ascot racecourse, which has since delighted its guests in British summertime. In racing season, the Royal Ascot meeting is pivotal and the highlight of this event is the Royal Procession, which each day marks the arrival of the monarchy, a tradition dating back to the 1820s when King George VI started the first one in 1825. The Royal Enclosure is the pinnacle of the event where the Queen is seated with her entourage. It is the most prestigious enclosure at the meeting and both entry and dress code are strictly regulated. The millinery creations at the event are well documented and the competition between guests is almost encouraged as a British tradition.
Tip: Keep an eye on the dress codes. For ladies, bare shoulders are not allowed in the Royal Enclosure or Grandstand, but hats are a must. Fascinators are not permitted in the Royal Enclosure.
5. Lord’s Test Match
June and July
Located in St John’s Wood, London, Lord’s is a fantastic way to watch the traditional British summer game. Known as the ‘home of cricket’, there are a number of games played throughout the Season but the two test matches are the big draw. Smart dress is essential in the Pavilion but waterproofs are advised for the outdoor seats thanks to the temperamental British weather.
6. King Power Gold Cup
18-22 July 2018
The British have long entertained a love for polo, ever since British tea planters in India began playing it in 1862. The King Power Gold Cup Polo event is the highlight of the polo season at Cowdray Park and is an essential component of the British Season. Polo games have been played on the Viscount Cowdray’s 16,000-acre Sussex estate for the last 100 years. The Gold Cup remains a pivotal event in the polo season, known as one of the highest quality polo games in the world. Each summer the lawns at Cowdray are strewn with hampers as aficionados, aristocrats and celebrities alike picnic on the lawns. Summer style is encouraged and men are permitted to wear lounge suits.
Tip: Ladies are advised to wear low heels or flat shoes if they want to participate in the tradition of ‘treading in the divots’.
7. Wimbledon Championships
2-15 July 2018
It was only 11 years after the All England Club was formed in 1868 that the first Wimbledon Championships were played at the small club on Worple Road in southwest London. The tournament had 22 participants, and 200 people turned out to watch the final. As humble as it was, the Wimbledon Championships had begun. Today, it is a refined summer event where smart attendees quaff Pimm’s by the gallon and consume strawberries and cream as tradition dictates. Centre Court is where the action takes place – both on court and in the stands, with the Royal Box garnering almost as much attention as the players. For those not able to make it into the Centre Court, the hill behind the courts makes for perfect viewing. This hill tends to take on the name of the nation’s favourite: Henman’s Hill, Murray’s Mount, and so on. The club issued a dress code to its members for the first time in 2012 to ensure sartorial standards are kept refined and respectful of the British sporting tradition.
Tip: Unlike other events throughout the Season, ladies are asked to refrain from wearing hats – especially in the Royal Box – so as not to obscure the vision of those seated behind them.
8. Henley Royal Regatta
4-8 July 2018
River Thames, Oxfordshire
It is 175 years since the riverside village of Henley-on-Thames staged its first rowing regatta in 1839. Despite pausing for each of the two World Wars, the event has annually entertained since. Originally curated as a town fair by the Mayor of Henley, the event grew to accommodate both the crowds that flocked to Henley in the summer, and those who wanted to concentrate on the competitive amateur-rowing contest itself. The 200 races take place over a five-day period. Gentlemen are required to wear lounge suits and rowing club colours are strongly encouraged. Ladies are to wear dresses with a hemline below the knee and hats, although welcomed, are not a necessity. The event has a truly English feel, with guests lounging in deckchairs along the riverbanks or frolicking along the lawns, Champagne in hand.
Tip: mobile phones are banned in the Steward’s Enclosure and men are required to wear a tie or cravat.
9. Glorious Goodwood
31 July-4 August 2018
King Edward VII once famously described the races at Goodwood as “a garden party with racing tacked on.” Perched high on top of the Sussex Downs, the five-day horseracing event on the Goodwood Estate began over 200 years ago. The beautiful surroundings of the undulating Sussex Downs sets the scene for the refined country estate fitting of a summer event for the upper classes. It is often referred to as the most beautiful racecourse in the world. The third Duke of Richmond created the racecourse at Goodwood House in 1802 in order to race with his Sussex militia. It has since developed into a delightful summer affair with Pimm’s and parasols aplenty.
Tip: men often don the traditional Panama hat as made popular by King Edward VII and ladies are discouraged from wearing stiletto heels due to the terrain.
10. Cowes Week
4-11 August 2018
Isle of Wight
This sailing regatta takes place between the south coast and the Isle of Wight each August. Keep the Friday free to go along as the day’s racing finishes with a firework display over the water. The yacht clubs throw parties you’ll want to be seen at and although deck shoes, fleeces and Breton stripes rule the crowds throughout the week, if you’re off to one of these parties you may want to don your finery.