Mid-century comic stock character, played (to the hilt) by Tallulah Bankhead, among others. Based on the behavior of apartment dwellers in New York's Park Avenue and various other groups along the Northeastern Corridor. Now a main component of drag queen behavior and Niles Crane.

This character owes her existence to a social phenomenon of the early to mid 20th century: the disappearence of personalized service in general, and servants in particular. In 1900, it was not difficult to find a family of quite modest means with domestic help, department stores and even groceries worked by placing an order at a counter, to be filled by a clerk (who ususally knew you, your quirks, and your tastes better than Amazon's software), who would then have your purchase delivered, and so forth. Driving, whether a car, or horses, was an optional activity: the most common self-driven vehicle was the bicycle. Social life was fairly formal, and dealings with one's bank or other officialdom was usually done face-to-face and/or with handwritten letters, not forms. Gradually, through first one World War, the popularity of electrical appliances, the growth of mass marketing and mass culture, the Depression, another World War, and so forth, most households became servantless, stores became "self-service", and everything became pared down for efficiency. Most people, whether through economy or fashion, adjusted to dealing with driving, shopping carts, lunch counters (and later, fast food), paperwork, and so on.

Except there were still a few, mostly very rich, who could afford to live otherwise. Accordingly, the Society Lady finds machinery puzzling, housework (and its various tasks and equipment) an enigma, anything more strenuous than walking a toy poodle in high heels exhausting, beaurocracy a charming idea (for someone else), and casual social uses utterly foreign. She phones ahead to reserve a seat on the subway, talks to tradesmen through an intermediary, and is shocked when the coffee in a diner is not made with arabica beans.

Physically, she can be a social X-ray: slim, dressed in a slightly gussied-up version of Preppy, or (more cartoonishly) fat, in an evening gown complete with lorgnette, with a refined, affected accent. Socially, she thinks of the world in two groups: peers (which she treats according to the way she herself would be treated) which covers anyone to whom she's introduced (which includes winos on the street), and servants (to whom she is courteous, but somewhat demanding) who are slightly shadowy automatons who exist merely to do their jobs. She is never rude, hurried, or less than charming -- held at gunpoint by a mugger, her reaction to "Give me your money!" is an abstracted "How much?"

In everyday life, this persona can be interesting to affect, especially with a male companion, who can pose as a bodyguard or hired "companion". It's certainly helped me out a lot.

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