Why society pages matter.
Like many things predominantly associated with women, it’s easy to write society pages off as superficial and inconsequential.
Not all that long ago, women weren’t involved in ‘society’ life at all. Proper society, and all the money and power that went along with it, was confined to men’s-only spaces. Gentlemen’s clubs were where the decision makers and influencers met to talk with and about each other. Women were not invited. Society writers were often the only females on staff at newspapers and their writings first appeared in “women’s pages” or “women’s interest” sections, deliberately kept separate from more serious, manly topics. It was through their work that women were able to start their own women’s clubs, eventually mix in the same social power circles as men, and slowly expand their real estate on mastheads (the fight is still ongoing).
Over time, these columns gave a voice and visibility to women and empowered them to champion causes beyond the confines of their kitchen. Did you know they played a central role in Victorian-era dress reform, freeing women from the confines of tight-laced corsets? Social columnists argued against them and promoted the stylishness of more comfortable, non-rib-crushing clothes. The same goes for releasing women of the obligation to always wear dresses and high-heeled shoes.
Society pages are modern-day mythology. They are, of course, part entertainment– but they also play a vital social role in telling stories about both the powerful and the powerless, allowing art forms to flourish, and encouraging acts of charity.
Admittedly, they often feature perfectly-posed, beautiful women, wearing flowing gowns with more square footage than most bachelor pads. Capturing these glamourous characters and the gossip that surrounds them is what brings life to many otherwise yawn-worthy causes. Few people wake up dying to buy pricey tickets to a an opera fundraiser or spend their days reading up on the latest medical advancements. Socialites use their social capital to make museum parties the hottest tickets in town, bring attention to a hospital’s latest project, and renew interest in staid arts organizations.
Yes, the spotlight shines on the subjects of society pages, but it also brings to light causes of the voiceless. Readers, potential corporate sponsors, and donors take notice.
As for those frothy frocks, what you don’t see are the hours of hard work and handcrafting by local designers excited to see their designs glide down a red carpet, appear in print and, hopefully, capture the attention of potential customers. The stars of social pages have launched the careers of many young designers in a country that too often devalues homegrown fashion as a vanity rather than an art. (You can read more of my thoughts on these stylish ladies who lunch and their contribution to the Canadian fashion industry here.)
But society pages won't always be men in penguin suits and women in glam gowns. As the essential characters and causes of one generation become canon, it's the role of an editor to help shape the mythology of a new one.
This is why I chose to feature The Rosé Picnic in my first City Life page. Women and men dressed in shades of pink, flower crowns galore, and cups overflowing with pink wine and champagne. The whole thing looks like a modern-day tableau of the Greek Gods. Yet, making it more than a pastel-splashed debaucherous spectacle, each ticket purchased bought a meal for Canadian children in need through the organization Feeding Canadian Kids. This is what the first foray into philanthropy looks like for many young people. Today it's a ticket to a picnic with a charitable twist, a few years from now it's more substantial table at a gala or perhaps even their own event.
Sometimes the society pages will entertain you; sometimes they'll inspire you. Sometimes they'll ignite gossip. At their very best, they'll do all three while helping worthy causes and individuals become part of Canada's essential mythology.
All photos: Ryan Emberley