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The Regency period, 1811-1820, was a time of unparalleled party-going. Starting at the beginning of The Season, right after Easter, and lasting through June, the upper ten-thousand spent almost every night in company and almost every morning recuperating from the previous night's excesses. Balls, assemblies, dinners, theatre- and card-parties, dances and musical gatherings were the center of daily life for the Ton, and every facet of society had a role to play in carrying each event off. Young, unmarried beauties vied for the attention?and hearts?of the Ton's most eligible bachelors, while elegant young wives competed amongst themselves to set fashions and trends. Men attended such outings either to view potential wives among the Season's fresh candidates, or to gamble and talk politics with their acquaintances. Some young men, as competitive as the women, strove to make a name for themselves by emulating one of Society's fashion leaders, like Beau Brummell. London hostesses strove to outdo each other by holding "the event" of the Season, and members of society were either in the fortunate position of being "sought after" for attendance at parties or, sadly, having to scramble for invitations. Social gatherings held different importance during the course of one's life. Let's consider, for instance, the variety of parties and gatherings that the daughter of a nobleman might enjoy as soon as she's "out of the nursery" and allowed to attend social functions. As such a young lady would likely be raised in the country, her first parties would be local assemblies, which would mainly include simple refreshments and proper country dances, attended by nearby gentry, or private dinner and card-parties thrown by neighboring families. On very rare occasions, and usually for certain important celebrations such as Christmas or a wedding, particularly wealthy local landowners with large estates would hold a formal ball, but even these would pale in comparison to the grandeur of a London gathering. When it came time for our young lady's presentation to society, at the age of seventeen or eighteen, she and her family would journey to London for The Season. Of first importance was her formal presentation at court to the Queen, an event for which she and other debutantes would be carefully dressed, jeweled and coifed according to strict rules regarding acceptable colors and styles. Her "court" dress would be among the most expensive she would ever have, and would probably only be worn once. It was a great deal of fuss for a gathering that was, most likely, rather dull and staid. Next on the list for our girl was a visit to Almack's, the most exclusive club in London, which was also called "the seventh heaven of the fashionable world." But admittance to this societal paradise couldn't be accomplished without "vouchers," or tickets that both invited and admitted attendees. Almack's was run by a group of society's most important matrons, and they alone decided who could pass through Almack's doors and who could not. Mothers of eligible daughters understood just how important acceptance by the patronesses was for the success of their daughters, for the inability to get vouchers to Almack's meant that the rest of society might shun a debutante as unworthy, and that would spell the end of a girl's hope for a good marriage. It's interesting to note that, as important as acceptance into Almack's sacred vestiges was, the assemblies held there were considered to be among the most boring in London. The refreshments were evidently quite ordinary and only the most prim and proper dances were allowed. Having successfully weathered both the Queen and Almack's, our young lady can now enter into the London Season with full cheer. Among the nobles, a refined system of "payback" took place. It's highly likely that our girl's mother held parties for the daughters of family and friends during their comeouts, and now those same family and friends will hold parties for *her* daughter. Apart from her own official comeout ball, she will be feted at intimate dinner parties and dances, where she will be put on display for every man seeking a young, well-born wife. And once she's made acquaintances among other members of the ton, our debutante will be invited to delightful afternoon picnics along the Thames, dinners at Vauxhall Gardens, evenings at the opera and theater, grand balls at the homes of the ton, and so many dances, card-parties and musical events that she'll be obliged to turn invitations away. If her Season is a successful one, our young lady will be able to look forward to further events given in her "and her future husband's" honor. An engagement ball and a large wedding party will be foremost among these. After marriage, there will be gatherings to celebrate the births of children, and then, if she should be fortunate in having daughters of her own, future Seasons and comeouts to plan. Giving a large party or ball was an expensive and time-consuming effort, especially as each hostess strove to outdo her fellows in giving the most memorable fete of The Season. The food had to be both unusual and excellent if a hostess wanted to avoid being thought cheap or insipid, and the entertainments, including music, dancing, and cards, had to be above average in order to compare favorably with other fetes. Of greatest importance was the guest list, for if a hostess was successful in drawing the most desirable guests to attend her function, then a great many others would follow suit and her gathering would be declared a "squeeze," or so crowded that free movement from room to room was difficult. Having one's party declared a "squeeze" was the ultimate compliment to a hostess's party-giving skills. Anything less was a sign of failure. The entire household would be turned upside down in the weeks previous to a large ball or party. Some hostesses had their homes decked out in expansive greenery and live plants, while others would have a theme, such as Oriental or French. Even the gardens were given much attention, with unusual lamps being set out among the pathways to provide light and beauty for those seeking fresh air. The best finery in the household was brought out for use, including china, silverware and crystal. Rugs were taken up and floors polished for dancing. Musical instruments were tuned, additional servants and cooks were hired, uniforms were cleaned and pressed, and, most importantly, the invitations were sent out. It was an enormous amount of work and expense for a single night's entertainment, but the importance of these balls and gatherings cannot be discounted. Reputations hung on how well an event was carried off, and the social ambitions of men and women, young and old were furthered - or thwarted - beneath the bright lights of such Regency fetes.
Mary Spencer, who also writes as Susan Spencer Paul, is the author of fifteen historical romance novels, ranging in era from Medieval to Regency to Early Americana. Her latest novel, THE PRISONER BRIDE, a Medieval written under the Susan Spencer Paul pseudonym, was released in December, 2001 by Harlequin Historicals."

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