For royals fanatics, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.
On Monday, the British royal family will open the Chelsea Flower Show, marking the unofficial start to – the high social season (a.k.a. “the Season”).
To navigate the world of champagne, debutantes and fabulous parties, we’ve enlisted the help of Myka Meier, founder and director of Beaumont Etiquette. Read on for five things you should know about the Season – even if you’re happily watching the event unfold from across the pond.
1. It Was Created with the Marriage Market in Mind
The presentation of debutantes at Court used to be the traditional marker of the start of the Season. Being presented was essentially a way for young women from aristocratic families to be introduced to upper-crust society – and, therefore, eligible bachelors from aristocratic backgrounds. Young women who had been presented (or, as it is often called, coming “out”) would then take part in all the parties and events of the Season. Before it was canceled, it was considered a major social no-no for a well-born young woman to take part in Season activities if she hadn’t been properly presented. However, after 1958, Queen Elizabeth II abolished the ceremony of being presented at court, opening up the Season to all sorts of young women – even as debutante balls and parties continued.
“The Season began in Britain in the 17th century and became known as the highly anticipated annual period of time from April to August when British society would attend the grandest of balls, concerts, charity events, debutante balls, fabulous dinner parties and cocktail events, essentially to meet, greet and present eligible women to society,” Meier tells PEOPLE. “Events such as Royal Ascot, the Proms (a series of classical concerts), Henley Royal Regatta, charity balls and countless polo matches fill the Season.”
2. It Originally Centered Around the Royal Family’s Calendar and Parliament
“The Season was actually created around the schedule of the royal family,” Meier explains. “Events would be planned around the time of year when the family was residing at their palaces in London, and therefore members of the court and aristocracy would also plan to be in the city during this time. All of the social events would be planned in or near London to ensure attendance among society and royals. To this day, many members of the royal family still regularly attend events during the Season.”
The Season was also created with politics in mind, as the social calendar coincided with when the landed gentry would leave their country estates to go to London and take part in the House of Lords. Of course, it’s no coincidence that Parliament and the monarch’s calendars are well synced (the Queen does have to open Parliament, after all), and the Season is just a happy social benefit of having so many aristocrats in one place.
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3. There are Different Rules for Different Events
With events ranging from sports to glittering balls, etiquette rules vary. “Events during the Season are often filled with Champagne and seasonal cocktails (like Pimms) and knowing your limits when enjoying yourself is key,” Meier says. “The more formal events during the Season do not tolerate disorderly behavior in any way and you may very well be asked to leave.”
“Researching protocol at certain events ahead of attending is very important,” she continues. “For instance, knowing you must stay quiet during tennis at Wimbledon, or understanding if you should or should not curtsey if you meet a royal.”
In addition to keeping conversation down during Wimbledon (fun facial reactions, however, are happily welcomed) another well-known social rule is the dress code inside the exclusive royal enclosure at Ascot. If you haven’t noticed by now, the English upper classes love a good hat, and Ascot is the ultimate showcase for fashionable toppers. Women are all required to wear hats with a base of at least 4 inches in diameter in order to gain entrance into the enclosure. (Keep the fascinators at home.)
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4. Regular Folks Can Take Part (but Get Your Tickets Early)
While the Season has aristocratic roots, these days the public can get a chance to attend one of the events. “Anyone is welcome to attend public or ticketed events during the Season,” Meier says. “The key is simply to buy tickets (which can often be very difficult to get and quite costly) as far in advance as possible, as many ticketed events sell out in hours.” Major public events include Ascot, Wimbledon and the Chelsea Flower Show among others.
As for how the members of the posh set feel about rubbing elbows with non-aristocrats, Meier says that most people won’t mind, provided everyone is polite and well-mannered.
“I think as long as people are respectful of the dress code, protocol and appropriate behavior, all would be welcome,” she says.
5. It’s Still Relevant in British High Society
Considering that the days of presenting debs at court are dead and pretty much anyone can get a ticket to major events, you might think that the Season is thought of as outdated and irrelevant amongst British high society. However, Meier says that it is still as popular as ever.
“While we no longer use the Season to parade debutantes to eligible aristocratic bachelors, it is still very much the highlight of the British social calendar,” Meier explains. “The Season is also still a period of time which you find the more formal social events taking place, such as white-gloved charity events (think Elton John’s White Tie and Tiara Ball), high-end sporting events (Prince Harry and Prince William usually play in multiple charity polo matches each summer) and Wimbledon, which Princess Kate loves to attend.