Saturday, March 19, 2011

How to be a lady

I recently finished watching a tv series I had recorded - The Ladies of Hedsor Hall. A group of rowdy young American women are sent to Hedsor Hall Finishing School in England. Aside from the inevitable cat fights, I really enjoyed the programme.

I would have loved attending something like that myself, although these girls could have eaten me alive. And it's only now that I'm older that I can appreciate the lessons.

Hedsor Hall has a crest which stands for everything that defines a true lady - 'dignity, discipline and grace'.

The girls had a few rules when they first moved in:

- No swearing
- No excess drinking
- Lights out at 10pm
- Act like ladies at all times

They sound like not unreasonable rules to live life by in general.

Each girl was given a set of pearls to wear while they attended finishing school. The headmistress told them 'pearls become brighter and shinier with wear over time. Wear them to remind yourself you are a lady'.

Tidying up their appearance, the teachers asked them to aim for 'neat and tidy' and wear their hair off their face, with hair styled 'like a lady, not a 12 year old girl'. A smooth ponytail is ladylike for example, whereas pigtails are not.

They were given classes in various areas and I had to take notes. It's never too late to refine oneself, I feel.

Deportment. Sit up straight. The girls were taught to walk with a book on their head, and even tried walking with a book and a glass of water on their head. The book-walking was more successful and looked more natural than the book- and glass-walking.

Falconry, pheasant shooting. Just the usual everyday pursuits you might follow in the English countryside.

Art class, flower arranging. They actually created really pretty and professional looking flower arrangements (in oasis on a dish, rather than in a vase).

Fine wines. Some of the girls refused to spit the wine out, not wanting to waste it. I'm afraid I might be like that, but if I was in esteemed company I'd hope I would follow the lead of the others.

Social etiquette. Making conversation is about making people feel comfortable. It is bad manners to interrupt someone when they are speaking. A lady drinks on certain occasions and not to excess.

Anger management. Learning how to be a lady is learning how to manage your anger and control your emotions. Find an outlet for your anger (in their case they went fencing. As you do).

Dancing. In the elegant world of a lady, mastering dances such as the waltz can demonstrate grace and refinement.

Table etiquette. To honour your host, try any food that is put in front of you. Try to finish 2/3. Of course they chose the foods which would challenge the girls most - haggis, lamb testicles are the few I remember. I doubt I would ever come across a dinner party where delights such as these are served, but I would give it a good go and not complain and retch. I don't eat pork products but have had a couple of occasions where I have because I am somewhere as a guest. Of course if you are vegetarian or vegan for ethical reasons it is different, but if, like me, you don't eat something just because you don't care for it, it can't hurt to be polite to your host or hostess.

Sexual etiquette. Men are hunters. Men love the chase. You have to be that prize. The prize that that person will want to come home to. Naturally their former behaviour of hooking up with guys they'd met in a bar that night was frowned upon.

Appearance makeovers. Hair is taken back close to the natural colour and is styled to be 'neat and prim'. All facial piercings are removed and makeup is applied in neutral colours. 'Looks aren't everything but they are important. First impressions are made as soon as you walk into a room'.

The Disciplinarian (one of the teachers had this title - isn't it wonderful?) said of her class: 'The trouble with these girls is that they all live in their little boxes, filled with alcohol, men and a complete lack of ambition. In order to be really successful in life, you've got to experience new things... expand your horizons'.

I feel lucky that I had rather a better influence in life than a lot of these girls. There were some very sad stories. I have never felt the need to start a bar brawl, or to have my eyebrow pierced (at the tamer end of the scale). I have my mum to thank for trying her best to mold me into a lady from a young age.

Some of her words I can still recall: 'Speak properly', 'at least try something once before you say you don't like it', 'horses sweat, men perspire, ladies glow' and 'airports have lounges, Fiona, homes have living rooms'. My sister and I were taken complainingly to the theatre. But thankfully some of her lessons have rubbed off on me.

So won't we all put our pearls on today and head out into the world to 'be a lady'?


  1. A lovely post, Fiona. I think it is the ultimate embrace of both femininity and feminism to be a lady. Act like a demure lady, and you will find you have an incredible power around men and other non-ladylike women (except, perhaps, in a bar brawl!).

    I am lucky, too, that my mother instilled many ladylike qualities in me, and I do wish I had been fortunate to be sent to finishing school to refine flower arranging and dancing. And, oh gosh, to be skilled at falconry!

  2. Great lessons for all here. Luckily I was raised by a lady herself so I got to observe her habits first hand. Manners were important in my house growing up and I've never forgotten the lessons learned.

  3. Thanks for the great post! I love the Grace Kelly pic also. Reminds me of my grandma, the most ladylike woman I know...and people used to call her Grace Kelly and comment on how much she looked like her when she was younger. The book on the head grandma always mentions that to

    Although I don't particularly want to try pheasant shooting...I feel like I would love to learn to ride a horse. I think those equestrian outfits and boots...are somewhat ladylike...;)

  4. I am going to try to find that series, Fiona. It sounds very entertaining and you did such a great review of it. Reminds me a lot of what I have been reading in my vintage Home Ec books. I have another series that was designed as a "finishing school at home course" called "The Nancy Taylor Course". Nancy Taylor graduates were promised, "1. Free Job Placement at every Nancy Taylor School in the United States and Canada for the rest of your life.
    2. Discount Privileges Toward the Purchase of Nancy Taylor Custom Cosmetics. 3. Free Personal Consultation Service. 4. Free Transfer Service". It came in a 4 volume set and covers everything you can think of on beauty, hair, manners, planning your wardrobe, how to move like a model etc. Great fun to read!! I am thinking of using these books as a future series on my blog. xxBliss

  5. Oooh, I have watched this, but only when I found out the had done an American version! The original one is Australian women (I watched it in England). Fascinating. And I was saddened to discover that the place isn't real, they rented it for the's actually a beautiful place you can have events at!

    I think acting like a lady is important. I think there is a time and a place for un-ladylike behavior, such as using a curse word when you've slammed your knee into the door as I did today.

    I agree with Rebekah that a lady has more power over men and women alike. My husband is mesmerized watching other men watch me simply because of the way I carry myself and the careful way I move about. I have a lower voice, and I try to speak slowly and politely. It's made men who don't look as if they normally open a door for a woman rush to do so.

    On the dinner party thing though I will say that vegetarians who do not inform me of that before I serve a meal are sorry out of luck. I usually serve plenty of vegetables, but part of being a good guest is letting your host know that you don't eat something due to allergies or moral reasons. I do not ask ahead of time because these days you would end up with so many, "Well, I don't really like..." answers as to make a meal impossible. I don't like mayonnaise really, but I will eat what is put before me in a dinner (as you have). Most people can swallow anything out of politeness.

    Now, if I know you cannot eat something (two girlfriends came over this past weekend and I would never serve pork because one is deadly allergic and the other can't for religious reasons) then I will avoid cooking it. But otherwise I think it's time people grew up and minded their manners.

    Sorry for the long post!

  6. I always thought it would be so much fun to go to a finishing school. I have always been fascinated by proper etiquette and elegance that show would be fun, i don't think I would qualify though haha I am not wild in the least! I can't even imagine piercing anything or getting in a fight lol.

  7. Fiona,

    This program sounds quite funny but entertaining and educational...

    My late aunt went to finshing school in Switzerland back in the early 50's...
    I remember that she wore pearls, and silk scarves...dressed very appropriately for any occasion, sipped her sherry very slowly, never gossiped or raised her voice...I think her training helped her to be confident.

    I wonder if the pendulum will swing back to the trend of sending young women off to finishing schools again!

  8. I love your post! I have already watched few parts and I really like them. I think many of us could use classes like these. I have always dreamt about school where I would learn how to be a lady. Many people tell you that it is not that difficult, just do not use bad word, do not drink too much and walk straight. I would say it needs something more. Something you can learn from real Ladies only.
    Thank you very much for the post and hope for many many more!

  9. What a great program. Sounds like it should be compulsory for us Americans. Even I, who came of age in the '80s when you did, Fiona, would've loved the opportunity to have become extremely refined. Another fantastic post, Fiona. You are cranking them out!

  10. Fiona, love this post. I'm now going to have to look for that series.

    When I was growing up, we had what was called "charm schools." I was never fortunate enough to attend one but I had a cousin who did. She would bring home various reading materials from her weekly classes and she would let me borrow them.

    I was fortunate that my mother instilled certain lady-like qualities in me. She was strict about my having good posture. My husband said one of the first things that attracted him to me was my good posture.

    Another thing that my mother abhorred was the word "ain't." To this day, that word hurts my ears. I also have never adopted the habit of swearing. It just never occurs to me to use curse words to express myself, even when angry.

    It is sad how so many young women today feel it necessary to be vulgar and aggressive. I believe it's possible to be a lady and a feminist.

  11. Love this post, Fiona. I am going to seek this series out.

    My Mom was raised in the South where appearances were very important, as well as social graces. While she let us be our own people, through her example I learned life lessons at a young age that have served me well.

    Never go out not looking your best, as that is when you are sure to see everyone you know.

    Always be a good hostess and serve more than will ever be consumed.

    Better to remain quiet than share a side of yourself you can't take back (this one is still a work in progress...but I'm getting there.)

    And my pearls? I wear them nearly everyday. My Mom always said pearls are a girls true best friends.

  12. Great post Fiona. I've never seen this series but will try and search it out. I am British, and went to a private school run by nuns!!! Just imagine the rules I had to abide too, but to this day they have kept me in good stead; the main one being I rarely lose my cool (even my hubby is astounded by my composure at times).

  13. I'll have to look out for this show. There was something similar on a while ago called Ladette to Lady where they took rowdy English girls (the Ladettes) and put them through finishing school to make them into ladies.

    I, too, would have like the opportunity to attend some kind of finishing or charm school. While I do have some ladylike qualities I would relish the opporunity to learn more.

    My Dad was the one who reinforced posture when I was growing up, and I remember the headmistress of one of my schools pushing her knuckle between the shoulder blades of girls who didn't stand up straight. Unfortunatley years of working on computers doesn't do much good for ones posture!

    I believe manners are really important but unfortunately they are disappearing quickly. Treating people how you would like to be treated seems to have also been forgotten in this fast-paced me-me-me world.

    I like the picture you posted. Grace Kelly is the epitomy of all that is elegant and lady like.


  14. I have watched the show on Norwegian televison and I found it very entertaining. Growing up in Norway, the way of life is more casual and there's not much emphasis on these kind of things, even the nobility as a social class was abolished some hundred years ago. Personally I don't know the first thing about arranging flowers and I don't wear pearls because it's not my style. To me, however, being a lady today is also about being well educated, well read, being polite and friendly, take interest in how you dress and present yourself and so on. These are qualities that I think are always appreciated.

  15. Such wonderful comments. Thank you all for your contribution to this discussion. I really enjoyed reading your memories, and 'ladylike' tips as well.

    Paty, I know what you mean. Watching the upper-crust English women and how they spoke/acted was as eductional as what they were teaching.

    Vanessa, I am so envious of you. One of the things I'm trying to change is losing my temper. If you did a post on 'keeping your cool in trying situations' I would be so grateful.

  16. Dear Fiona!! A perfect post!! I'm glad to hear MTV has some sort of answer to the shows like Teen Mom. I'll have to watch for this one and see what tips I can also take from it. (And of course, link back to you from my blog. This is exactly the kind of thing that inspired me to start writing it in the first place.)

  17. Sounds like an interesting series. I have teenage daughters, and I am struggling to raise them properly, despite all the negative influences around them. By that I mean anyone on reality tv shows, most celebrities, and some of their acquaintances in high school (and a few of their relatives.) I am also raising them to be feminists, and admit that the term "ladylike" has some negative connotations to me, so I'm more inclined to think "classy" instead.

    One daughter seems to pick this stuff up naturally, but it's a struggle with the other...she's good as far as the really important things (no tattoos or piercings, no drunken/slutty pictures on Facebook, etc.), but I wish I could get her to work on the social graces bit. She thinks table manners are stupid and that nobody cares. I've warned her that she'll find out she's wrong at the most inopportune time, but I guess she will have to learn that for herself.

    Seems to me that so many young women have very little self-respect these days---that's why they are acting like Snooki!

  18. A wonderful post!
    Some people I know socially/ at work, view being feminine as being weak. I find that very sad.
    I am trying to bring up my little one to be a strong, brave young lady , with a kind heart.

    i of sydney

  19. This is priceless. While I admire the lessons on manners, it is the other "finishing" rules that I cannot be defined by. When I am angry I let the person know what I am angry about and sometimes I may raise my voice. I have to get the movie!

  20. Hi Fiona - thank you for the sweet comment you left on my blog. I have become a follower of yours. Looking forward to learning more about being "chic". :)

  21. Sorry but as a British woman I find the obsession with being 'a lady' slightly creepy. Perhaps it's because I've lived in a world where class still creates a glass ceiling, perhaps it's the invisible sexism (lights out by 10pm and deportment - not if you're a paramedic or police officer) and perhaps it's the way it stereotypes a nation which is actually very experimental/open 'culturally' as some kind of island-museum. The UK isn't ladies and cute urchins.

    Indeed, many real titled women (Ladies, Dames, Duchesses etc') were far from pretty dolls. They pioneered social justice (Lady Godiva), girls getting muddy and working outdoors like boys (Lady Baden Powell) ... finishing schools were set up, a bit like stage-schools, for the early equivalent of pushy X-factor-mums- to 'fake' the class thing and get the right kind of man.

    Not the kind of thing a real aristocrat would stoop to (I've met some who laugh at the ideas of what 'a lady' is like... and swear. A lot. In an intelligent, witty way may I add), yet ironically embedding that snobbery even deeper.

  22. Lovely post, Fiona. Thought I would share with everyone that it is possible to watch this entire series online at


  23. Enjoyed this post very much, Fiona.
    Thanks for sharing about that tv series! Bess

  24. I was brought up in Britain and am very familiar with the British class system and I must confess that I agree with Perdita!
    Just catching up on your posts.
    Spent the past week travelling - and away from blogland;-)

  25. I saw something similar a few weeks ago...Ladettes to Ladies set at a finishing school in England too.

  26. I'm happy to see you have so many visits to your blog. It's very good.

    This was a great post. Thank you for writing.


  27. Darling Fiona- I saw this program too when it was on a few years ago. I love etiquette shows- I wish there were more of them! Sadly there aren't. Hope you are doing well cherie xx


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

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