The velvet rope. In or out. I am puzzled by the folks that stand outside clubs hour after hour, eager to get in or have their name on a magic list. Bouncers part the crowds to make way for the chosen coterie. What is the x factor for cool? At one time there was an equation to solve for whether you have enough of “it”, or bon ton, to belong to the fashionable circle. The equation for ton was well-guarded by, ‘that Most Distinguished and Despotic CONCLAVE, Composed of their High Mightinesses the Lady Patronesses of the Balls at ALMACK’S, the Rulers of Fashion, the Arbiters of Taste, the Leaders of Ton’. (Ellen Moers. The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1960)
Princess Lieven, lady patroness at Almack’s by Sir Thomas Lawrence, circa 1805 www.dukesofbuckingham.org
Almack’s. The club of clubs during England’s Regency period. The building itself was inconspicuous but its Assembly Rooms were reserved for whomever the ladies-patronesses regarded as distinguished society. “The conclave who sit there around a table covered with red cloth, every Monday during the season, have the power, by their single fiat, of making or unmaking entire families.” (James Grant. The Great Metropolis London: Saunders and Otley, 1837). The bearing of the velvet rope, then, is hardly as consequential as being denied a ticket into Almack’s. The six ladies-patronesses sat around their “board of red cloth”, bestowing judgments from which there was no appeal. “They unhesitatingly refuse to admit the applicant; and they are not called upon to assign any reason for pronouncing a fiat of exclusion…It is in vain that the parties boast, perhaps, of belonging to one of the most ancient and noblest families in Great Britain: in the fashionable world, if excluded from Almack’s, that will not avail them.” (Grant)
Almack’s unassuming frontage www.setdance.com
Having enough ton to gain admission to Almack’s was a tricky business. You couldn’t depend on peerage or wealth. Many members of the nobility never made it through the doors, but Thomas Moore, a “penniless Irish poet” was judged as having enough ton to belong to the club. For ladies, however, the one dependable qualification was beauty (Moers).
Thomas Moore www.askaboutireland.ie
Once you were allowed in to Almack’s the strictest costume regulations had to be followed. One of the most famous instances of rejection in the history of the club was the Duke of Wellington being shut out because he was wearing trousers and not “regulation knee-breeches” in the style of Beau Brummell (Moers).
the Duke of Wellington, Sir Thomas Lawrence www.noelcollection.org
Inside the Assembly Rooms, surrounded by excessive tonage, beauty and charisma existed the miseries inherent in high society. The fierce competition for entrance to Almack’s continued well beyond having a ticket in hand. “With regard to the young ladies, again, who are to be seen at Almack’s, there is immeasurably more misery among them than the super¬ficial observer would believe…A single look or smile from the object of a young lady’s affections to some other young lady, is like plunging a dagger into the bosom of the former…What is Almack’s, with all its glitter and glare, to such a person? It is no better than a wilderness. To her ears the music has no charms; the dance no attractions. She has no sympathy with those around her.” (Grant)