A young girl’s come-out in Polite Society started with her presentation at Court. During Regency times, she would “make her curtsy to the Queen”, be honored with a large ball given by her family at their London residence, and if she were very fortunate, receive a voucher for Almack’s, the exclusive “marriage mart” to which all marriage-minded misses and their mothers yearned to be invited. (See previous post)
Wide hoops popular in the previous century were obligatory, even during the Regency when waistlines moved higher, and the result was considered ridiculous even then. But Queen Charlotte insisted, and…well…who was going to argue with the Queen?
The elaborate gown consisted of a bodice, followed by a narrow hoop covered by layers of skirts. In her Memoirs, the Comtesse de Boigne describes “a satin skirt lavishly decorated with silver embroidery topped by a tulle skirt featuring a silver lace furbelow. The shortest and top skirt was made of silver-spangled tulle decorated with a garland of flowers. This last skirt was turned up and tucked so that the garland draped crosswise all around the skirt. To complete the proper style, the bottom of the white satin dress was turned up in loops and did not reach the base of the hoop skirt. Only the queen wore a train.” (see footnote)
In addition to the gown, an elaborate headdress with at least seven ostrich feathers was required. “The Comtesse’s head-gear beneath her plumes consisted of a garland of white roses upon a ringlet of pearls, a diamond comb, diamond buckles, and white silk tassels.” (see footnote)
It was also obligatory to display as much jewelry as possible, no matter how ridiculous it might appear. It is not surprising that these outfits cost an enormous amount of money in themselves, even though they might never be worn again.
In fact, considering the cost of the court dress, an extensive wardrobe, the come-out ball, a suitable residence in the most exclusive part of town, and enough servants to staff it, only the very wealthy could afford such lavish expenditures. These things were necessary, however, if one wished one’s daughters to marry well—title, family connections, and wealth—and it’s not difficult to visualize a father with several daughters or one who didn’t “take” the first season agonizing over the huge amounts of money flowing out of the family coffers. Undoubtedly, the young ladies were well aware of their parents’ expectations; after all the money spent, they’d better not do something stupid like allow themselves to be ruined or fall in love with a penniless man.
On the day of the presentation, the young ladies would arrive in a long procession of carriages.down Piccadilly Street to St. James’s Palace. Amidst trumpets and gunfire, they would proceed into the palace and join the crush of richly-dressed ladies in ostrich plumes, hoop skirts, and diamonds. It was an exciting, but terrifying, initiation into the top echelons of London society. Each girl would be led to the Queen, make her curtsy, exchange greetings and perhaps pleasantries with Her Majesty, and then walk backwards out of the room (one should never turn one’s back on royalty), hoping against hope that she didn’t trip or cough or do something to earn the Queen’s disapproval.
Afterwards, during the remainder of the Season, there were balls and routs, trips to the opera, the theater, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and Hyde Park, Venetian breakfasts and ridottos (although not masquerades, since they were considered only for the fast set), and all manner of exciting social events where a young lady could establish herself in London Society…and make the acquaintance of many suitable gentlemen themselves seeking eligible matches.
This all sounds thrilling, but for some reason, I seem to prefer writing romances with more down-to-earth characters in less grand settings. Perhaps because I’m a farmer’s daughter at heart? But as much as I enjoy reading and imagining such things, I still prefer characters who can be blissfully happy without all the glitter and the falderal.
What do you think? Can you visualize yourself “making your curtsy to the Queen”?
The Regency Companion, Sharon Laudermilk and Theresa L. Hamlin, Garland Publishing, Inc., 1989, p. 24.
The Regency Rites series