My mother went to a finishing school that almost finished her.
She ran away, past the finish line, home to New York, only to be boomeranged like a wet kitten ker-plopped by the mother cat.
It was an all girls’ school. On Sundays, the girls would dress up in formal dresses and serve tea to each other. Does it get any better than that?
My aunt was schooled in elocution. Asked by a pretend waiter if she would like apple pie for dessert, she replied acoustically, “I’d like peach pie please.”
He’d ask if she’d like blueberry pie, and countless other flavors to which she meticulously confirmed: “I’d like peach pie please.”
I was brought up with a basic code of manners: You offered your seat on the bus to an elderly person; boys or gentlemen opened doors for ladies, called girls for a date, not vice versa, picked them up at their home and delivered them safely back to the same address.
I vaguely knew the difference and placement between salad, fish and dinner forks, and that napkins were a must. Grownups were addressed as Mr. and Mrs., unless they offered the honor of calling them by their first name, often with the affectionate term of Aunt or Uncle softening the stretch.
I know a few girls, who after graduating high school were shipped off to Europe to learn the art of perfect calligraphy, place settings and making a man feel invaluable.
Finishing schools conjure up all the Stepford niceties of model behavior: perfect posture, the art of conversation, a dollop of culture and languages, and the ancient art of making the perfect marriage.
In an era before blonde jokes, it was implicit that you let a man win at tennis, chess, badminton, backgammon and life.
Schools that were once considered finishing schools were much tougher than that.
Take Foxcroft: Notable Foxcroft alumnae include Cornelia Guest,”the debutante of the decade;” actress Stephanie Zimbalist and Pulitzer Prize journalist Frances Fitzgerald.
My friend, a Foxcroft grad doesn’t pretty it up: “We wore uniforms with confederate emblems, marched, drilled, drummed and fox-hunted in between.”
“There was nothing lady-like about it. We slept outside on the porch, with snow on our beds. We were groomed to maintain a life that we already had, only adding a man from our established world as our mate. The sports, hazing, coon hunts and bullying, were all meant to toughen us up for a life that was considered an ongoing privilege and entitlement.”
Fashion editor Polly Mellen applauds Farmington.
“I just loved it (1938 to 1942).You wore the Brooks Brothers polo coats, black and white saddle shoes, and the Brooks Brothers sweaters in all those different wonderful colors, over a little perfect white shirt, and a grey flannel skirt. The pageboy was very much a part of it. My husband would say we were kind of snooty.”
Farmington was not known for being kinder and gentler. Overweight girls were put together at one table, while thin ladies were separated and forced to eat what was put in front of them. No “hair smoothing” was allowed during meals.
For those who embrace the idea of a modern day finishing school, your niche is our plaisir. Entrée, s’il vous plait.
“Beatons,” based in London and New York cultivates “the art of sophistication.” Classes are held at the Soho Grand, the Ritz Carlton, in New York, while in Paris the George V and The Ritz are etiquette havens along with Cannes and the beach. Classes unravel the secrets of style, etiquette, deportment, voice and the perfectly turned out “elegant bride. “
Gentlemen, you are cordially invited to :“Gentlemen finishing classes,” so polish your shoes, attitude and join in “The Etiquette School of New York’s Finishing School for Adults,” emphasizes “presence, polish, exemplary decorum, a unique sense of style, a sensitive awareness of others, and of course impeccable manners.”
The “Final Touch Finishing School teaches both sexes “how to move informal to formal situations with ease.”
With barnyard language and four letter expletives becoming as common for the upper-uppers as well as the lower-lowers, distinguish yourself by knowing your table settings, order from the bottom menu when you’re the guest (unless you enjoy being gossiped about) and let the white-gloved good and often just a bit uptight times roll.