Mrs. Astor and Twentieth Century Socialites: The Original Kardashians

kimk lina astor

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a very long time. I have not finished with my Lusitania trip, not by a long shot, but I saw an article just now that reminded me what I’ve been wanting to write–and it’s about the Kardashians.

I’ve been reading Maureen E. Montgomery’s book Displaying Women as I prepare to write my favorite era in American history, 1890-1918. And in between reading this very academic book, I unwind with an episode or two of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Let no one say I’m one-note.

Montgomery devotes an entire chapter to the social calendar of the upper-class women in New York society during the early twentieth century. Specifically how “what Mrs. Astor did and when she did it became benchmarks for New York society.” According to Montgomery, Mrs. Carolina Astor’s movements and lifestyle influenced the timing of the majority of high society events in New York and “New Yorkers could set their clocks by her movements (19). So much so that the World wrote of her social calendar:

Her dances are always upon Mondays, her state dinners always upon Thursdays. She has always had the same butler, Thomas Haig, since 1876. She sails for Europe on the first steamer after Ash Wednesday. She keeps the same apartment in Paris. She returns always on the same week in June. Her Newport villa, Beechwood, is always open on the same date. She comes to town in the same week in October. And so each year is rounded out. (19)

I bring up Mrs. Astor’s profound impact on the whole of society (including those in Great Britain but more on that later) because I was keenly reminded of those women who have so much to say about our culture today, including the Kardashians.

In the early twentieth century, well-to-do women proved their status by the amount of leisure time they had and used that leisure time to “display” themselves in the best way possible–expensive clothing, high-end jewelry, etc., and to give the rest of America something to aspire to. As I read Displaying Women, I saw the beginnings of the Kardashians, Hiltons, and the rest. While I hesitate to say the beginnings since high classes have always influenced the rest of society, I see the beginning of the Pinterest-obsessed, reality-TV-binging culture. The early 1900s saw the beginning of the paparazzi who followed the high society women and reported their every move in gossip columns and newspapers. It saw the first department stores (anyone seen Mr. Selfridge’s or The Paradise?) where middle class women could try to copy the high society’s looks with skin care,

hair tutorials,

hairtutorialand even the first selfie.

first selfie_dailymail

American society followed the displaying women and began to imitate each other and I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say that it eventually led to Pinterest and even the new Kardashian apps where you can get an even more in-depth look into how the Kardashians live their lives.

Am I the only one intrigued by this connection? I find it so exciting to see parallels in our society and the Edwardian Era. Anyone else see any connections?

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