The “London Season” began as an “upper-class mating ritual”, says Lisa Hilton in The Critic, where girls were launched on the marriage market across a “positively exhausting timetable” of events. It stretched from April to August, “after which the toffs could hightail it back to the Highlands” for shooting. The Boat Race, Glyndebourne, Chelsea Flower Show, Royal Ascot and the Henley Regatta all featured.
The modern Season is far more expansive. Music festivals are major newcomers, with The Daily Telegraph, “that well-known bible of edginess”, listing 33 events between May and September this year. The Serpentine Summer Party is the nearest London gets to New York’s Met Gala, though it’s mainly for celebrity children to get photos for Instagram. (Nowadays no bash is complete “without a selection of Insta-friendly backdrops where the unknowing villeins of surveillance capitalism can pay their tithes”.)
Art fairs, from the Venice Biennale to London’s Frieze, dominate the calendar. You don’t need to know anything about conceptual art to attend – the only requirement is wealth. The parties “are really snazzy”, and many are even held on islands: “Menorca is cooler than Ibiza thanks to Hauser and Wirth, while the hottest ticket in the Aegean is the Slaughterhouse Deste party on Hydra in June.” But though the “New Season” might be financially selective, “it lacks a crucial element of angst”. The arcane regulations and traditions of the original Season establish a subtler form of exclusivity: “the divide between those in the know and those who think they are”.