Ladies who lunch
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Ladies who lunch is a phrase often used to describe well-off, well-dressed women who meet for social luncheons, usually during the working week. Typically, the women involved are married and non-working. Normally the lunch is in a high-class restaurant, but could also take place in a department store during a shopping trip. Sometimes the lunch takes place under the pretext of raising money for charity.
The phrase "ladies who lunch" was introduced in the January 19, 1970, issue of New York magazine by the writer Merle Rubine, "Anyone with a fair figure, ready cash, fashion savvy and a safecracker's nerve can buy the best that Fifth Avenue has to offer on Seventh Avenue at half the price. The girls at Condé Nast and Harper's Bazaar have known this for years. Likewise the ladies who lunch at Restaurant X, although they'd rather be banished from the banquette than admit they got their Beenes and Blasses on a bargain basis."
It was later popularized by a song of the same name in Stephen Sondheim's Company. The character Joanne, a rich, cynical, middle-aged woman, makes a drunken toast to her peer group in "The Ladies Who Lunch." Her song offers a sardonic toast to rich women, including herself, who fill their time with frivolous things like luncheons and parties.
The song has given the phrase "ladies who lunch" a somewhat negative connotation. Joanne's condemnation of women who are "off to the gym, then to a fitting, claiming they're fat" does not paint these women in a generous light. Ladies who lunch are often seen as lacking substance.
Other cultural references
“Ladies Who Lunch” was the title of a sketch on the Season 36 premiere of Saturday Night Live hosted by Amy Poehler. In the sketch, four upper-class women, played by Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, Vanessa Bayer and Abby Elliott, eat lunch at the fictional restaurant Chez Henri. Sylvia (Wiig’s character) is constantly upstaged by Trish (Poehler’s character). Bayer’s character and Elliott’s character fawn over Trish’s tiny hats. Sylvia gets jealous and also attempts to wear small hats, but Trish pulls crazy stunts and is always able to upstage Sylvia. At the end, Trish pulls the biggest stunt of all and fakes her own death, winning the approval and amusement of her friends and causing Sylvia to realize that she cannot best Trish. The title alludes to the frivolity of the lives of socialites. The women only seem to care about the next trend in fashion and little about their actual friends.
The ABC television series Desperate Housewives featured an episode entitled "The Ladies Who Lunch". The show traditionally named episodes after songs by Stephen Sondheim. It was originally aired as Episode 16 on March 27, 2005.
In Arrested Development, The Balboa Bay Window, which is a fictitious high-culture magazine made up for the purpose of the show, features the byline "The Magazine of The American Society of Ladies Who Lunch-- A Lot."
The novel The Ladies Who Lunch: A Middle Aged Women's Guide to Modern Morality written by international etiquette consultant Ruth L. Kern tells the story of a group of glamorous middle-aged women in the upper echelons of society. The women care about little other than the latest fashions and the society page of the newspaper. They remain connected through their "Ladies Who Lunch" group which meets regularly to discuss recent gossip.
In the Broadway musical Company, Elaine Stritch, as Joanne, sings the song "The Ladies Who Lunch". The song mockingly judges the rich and wealthy women who waste their middle-aged lives doing nothing meaningful.
- The Passionate Shopper/Merle Rubine, "Dressing Wholesale", New York Magazine, 19 Jan 1970, ISSN 0028-7369, on Google Books
- Saturday Night Live, Season 36, Episode 1