Monday, March 19, 2012

American "Dollar Princesses", Britain's Cash Poor Aristocracy & The Famous Four Hundred

   In watching the hit TV series "Downton Abbey", I thought the character of the American Lady, Cora Crawley, might be loosely based on the famous teenager, Consuelo Vanderbilt. Everyone has heard the story of this bride married off in 1895 by her Mother to the Duke of Marlborough, thus, saving his estate Blenheim Palace where Winston Churchill was born. I felt sorry for Downton Abbey's "Cora" as I thought she might be the only American chatelaine in Britain.
   As it turns out, over 350 American heiresses were married off to British Aristocracy between the 1890's and WWI. Why? Simple reason. The British Aristocracy needed cash to keep their vast estates, and the daughters of the nouveau rich American Industrialists needed Title.
   As a result of these marriages, 25 Billion US dollars rolled into Britain's economy. Soon, As a result of this huge cash infusion, by the end of the 20th Century, 1/4 of The House of Lords had a transatlantic connection.
   Upon closing the marriage contract, these "Dollar Princesses" received their titles, immediately elevating their social status so they and their families could caper about with the established Mayflower and Main Line dynasties of New York and Philadelphia.
   With the new cash influx, the Landed Gentry of Britain could then keep their large estates with their thousands acres of land and grand houses intact. England was suffering not only from an agricultural depression but from a newly implemented tax called the "Death Duty," similar to our Estate Tax here in the US.
    Who were these American heiresses turned Ladies and Countesses? Well, we have all heard of Consuelo Vanderbilt (Railway heiress), but are y'all familiar with Winaretta Singer (sewing machine heiress), Mary Leiter, (Chicago department store heiress), Jennie Jerome (NY real estate developer heiress), Minnie Stevens and Nancy Astor (hotel heiresses). Even Princess Diana's great-grandmother was an American.
   This influx of transatlantic marriages became so popular, entire industries popped up to accommodate their weddings, wedding trousseaus, lifestyles and needs. One such industry was a quarterly publication called: "The Titled American." This publication became the most popular of many publications for American heiresses looking for husbands, titles and instant social status.
   Back during the turn of the last century with the American Industrial Age, there were 1000 Millionaires living in New York.  Mrs. Astor could only fit 400 people into her ballroom, thus, was born the infamous "Four Hundred." Bottom line, Mrs. Astor would not admit the newly rich Vanderbilt's to her ballroom until Consuelo received her title "Duchess of Marlborough."
   Nancy Langhorne Astor, from Danville, Virginia, was the most accomplished of the "Dollar Princesses." She became the first woman Member of Parliament to take up her seat in the House of Commons. The American "Grand Experiment" saved many of Britain's grand estates!          

Friday, March 9, 2012

Nice Television and Conversation Direction

    Is it just me, or are we all starved for nice television. Well spoken, well mannered, well dressed, beautifully educated people with decent families respectfully trying to get along with each other and striving to live their lives positively and happily.
   Enough of the foul mouthed, ill mannered, ill spoken, ill educated, mean, sloppy, selfish people treating each other horribly with utter and ultimate disrespect. As a Bruce Springsteen song once said: "57 channels and nothin' on." No kidding. Are we, as a country done yet with the grossness of "Reality TV?"
   Most clips of "Reality TV" I have seen (because I do not watch it), remind me of the Circus freaks I used to see in books from the turn of the last century. Yes, it is human nature to be drawn to the unusual, the sensational, the spectacular and fantastic. Eventually though, wouldn't we all rather spend our valuable free time happily escaping into a lovely world filled with some of the niceties in life?
    The British drama, "Downton Abbey," is set during the turn of the last century, at the height of the  Edwardian Age. It is a  huge hit across the pond with 12 million viewers and is becoming a success here in the USA as it took home a Golden Globe award this year. Downton Abbey has a few Facebook pages devoted to this show and folks adore the every day politeness, manners and general respect the characters show each other. Yes, life happens and human beings make mistakes, but the downs in Downton Abbey are a far cry from the foul, crying, unfair and nasty downs we all have to suffer through in watching Reality TV.       
   Speaking of Edwardian manners, did y'all know that during the first course of a meal, guests would talk in one direction (for example, to the right), then for the second course, guests would talk in the other direction (for example, to the left), and so on. For dessert, guests spoke to whomever they wished. The direction was set by the Hostess. This way, everyone at the table gets to speak and is spoken to, and no one is ignored. Civilized conversation. Fair and very nice.     

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Is It Advisable As A Guest To Wear Black To Weddings?

SJP On Her Wedding Day, 1997
Last month, I read an article in the February Elle Magazine (very expensive and exclusive fashion magazine), from their young etiquette columnist. He said guests may now wear black to weddings and it is now perfectly acceptable: "Black is totally appropriate, as long as it's done tastefully - keep it elegant and sleek (no Morticia Addams!)."
    Well, he is entitled to his opinion, but, he does live in New York City, the fashion capital of the world, and a city for young people. As I mentioned, he is much younger than me.
   Being 50 years old now, I am unfortunately at the age where my husband and I are starting to attend funerals. Black is required. No room for any other color as black is the American official mourning attire color.
  Understandably, Bridesmaids' dresses are expensive, and black Bridesmaids dresses are popular to have so each attendant may feel like she can wear her dress again. Totally fine and acceptable.
   However, my thoughts regarding guests (and Brides) are quite different. Why on earth would a guest want to wear black to a wedding, then the next week turn around and have to wear black to a funeral.
   Having been a Registered Bridal Consultant for over 2 decades, I also think wearing black to a wedding is bad luck. I'm not really a superstitious person, but just don't like black for such a happy day.
   Even Sarah Jessica Parker an actress who plays the character "Carrie Bradshaw" on the Series "Sex And The City," was quoted as saying she regrets wearing a black wedding dress for her delightfully happy, beautiful, lush wedding and reception at The Plaza in New York City. An unfortunate regret one can never reverse.
   Anyway readers, freedom is choice and choice is freedom. Y'all make up your own minds; black attire or no black attire to weddings.