|Get the best of Oprah.com in your inbox. Sign up for our newsletters!|
What We Can Learn from the Ladies Who Lunch
Stay with me here. In the 1960s, luncheoning at one of New York City's exquisite restaurants or clubs was a high-society ritual, complete with its own unspoken textbook of rules and regulations—read the entire article for a complete, compulsively readable portrait. No one ate much (everyone was on a diet) but social fixtures like Babe Paley and Gloria Guinness and Jackie O. would slip on their kidskin gloves and meet their friends and talk for hours and hours. (Just the idea of having hours and hours of leisure time gives me a vicarious shiver.) The main criteria of these lunches seem to be fancy hats for the ladies and a beautiful setting; Colacello notes that "La Grenouille was a bower of dogwood, forsythia, or cherry-blossom branches, depending on the season. Charles Masson Jr., who runs the restaurant today, told me his father had an obsession with flattering lighting, and when General Electric discontinued the lightbulb he preferred, he had Westinghouse reproduce it, despite the fact that the minimum quantity for a custom order was 25,000 bulbs. 'My father understood one thing, that if he made an environment as beautiful as possible, where women would feel beautiful, the women would come and, guess what, the men would come after them.'"
I know, I know -- it doesn't exactly sound empowering for women, what with the focus on looking good and eating nothing. But, as Colacello points out, when in the early part of the 20th century upper-class New York ladies started meeting at two newly-established clubs, it was actually something of a coup. He writes, "Although social men’s clubs had existed in Manhattan for decades, starting with the Union Club in 1836, the idea of women having their own club—where, like their husbands at the Knickerbocker or the Brook, they might receive correspondence from extramarital admirers—was so controversial that President Grover Cleveland found the need to speak out, asserting that a woman’s "best and safest club is in her home.'" Right, because babies and kitchen appliances are such fun and intellectually stimulating company. Then the ’60s saw an era of privilege and big hair, and the rise of the fancy-shmancy restaurant for fancy-shmancy ladies. Finally, in 1980s, as women started rise in the corporate ranks, the ladies' luncheon was replaced with the power lunch. Researcher Paul Wilmot told Colacello, “I’ll tell you what killed the ladies who lunch: work." And according to the fashion designer Donna Karan, "And the world we live in now, as we all know, is ultimate chaos. We can no longer sit around and have lunches as we used to do. Our lunches have to be proactive, and let’s get things done."
Put in this context, the fall of the Ladies Who Lunch seems like a positive step for womankind. We have more important things to do. But for my generation, in which girls grow up expecting to work, in which career women are plugged in to work 24/7, I think we can do to learn how to be more leisurely sometimes. So, we may not all be rich and fabulous, bedecked in designer clothing and visiting the hairdresser's every morning as a matter of course. But I know I would benefit from, now and then, slipping on a dress that makes me feel good (or at least, you know, changing out of my comfy pants), and meeting some dear girl friends at a place that looks wonderful, and makes us feel like we look wonderful too. And once there, we'll order actual food (after all, it's 2012, and we're hungry) and have long, meandering, delicious conversations. Nothing transactional, nothing productive at all. Just good company and good talk and maybe a fancy hat or two.
The Power of Friendship
Making New Friends as an Adult