Lessons in Sophistication

Being a cultured and classy individual doesn't always come naturally. Sometimes you need lessons — Lessons In Sophistication. These may include instruction in the world history, deportment and etiquette classes that teach good posture and regal carriage, education about proper forms of address for nobles and diplomats, what to wear, and relevant trade skills to whatever your craft may be. For women especially, this may including dance lessons and other high class forms of sport and entertainment. All the kinds of things a Proper Lady at court, or Quintessential British Gentleman would need to know to carry themselves in the presence of both great and small. Doubly necessary if she's a common girl with a Really Royalty Reveal, and now needs to act the part of a Princess Classic.

But do people appreciate these lessons? Hardly. They'll probably find the manners stiff and antiquated, the history dry and uninteresting, and the deportment painful and unnecessary. If she's a Rebellious Princess, or a former Street Urchin she may sneak out of her lessons or openly refuse to participate.

Since traditional "proper" gender roles for women tend to be seen as repressive, a female protagonist's story is usually on the side of the "uncultured", cheering on her attempt to challenge tradition, chronicling her pursuit of more relevant skills, and capping it off with a moral about the importance of staying true to yourself. Because of the lament that "chivalry is dead" for young men it tends to be encouraged that they accept the old ways.

More recently, however, this formula has become so recognizable that the plot may actually punish the women and men alike for their School Is for Losers attitude, throwing in a twist by having something from the Lessons in Sophistication be a Chekhov's Skill that becomes improbably necessary to the plot, or even just genuinely useful if she decides to take her role in society seriously.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Lady Jewelpet is about a girl who attends a school dedicated to teaching its students to be proper ladies and gentlemen. The female students are called Petit Ladies and they aim to be Top of Lady (sic). The male students are called Princes.
  • Usagi and her team went to these in the third act of the first season of Sailor Moon. The classes were imparted by a real princess and focused on class, manners, elegance and the princess favorite hobby: Frisbee throwing. It was all a set up by the Dark Kingdom to discover the real identity of Princess Serenity, since she acts like the opposite of a princess but was skilled at throwing her tiara as a disc.
  • Jane of Secret of Cerulean Sand is receiving these lessons in the Pilot Episode and is shown sewing for herself a trouser.

    Films — Animation 
  • Brave shows us Merida's impatience with her princess lessons and her clear preference for archery and horseback riding. However, her indifference is shown as somewhat immature, with the movie going to some lengths to help her see her mother's side of things.
  • In the film Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, a governess tried to teach Cinderella some of this. She taught her how to be a cold, always elegant above all princess, but she was so stuck up and boring that Cinderella couldn't learn what she was being taught, so she ended up giving up and tried to give her own twist to the fancy party they were organizing. The king and the prince were pretty much amused and Cinderella succeed in earning the sympathy of everyone in the castle anyway.
  • Orphan Anya from Don Bluth's feature Anastasia gets schooled in all things mannerly and urbane by Lovable Rogue Dmitri and Count Vladimir, because the men aim to pass Anya off as the missing Romanov princess, Anastasia. She's coached in ballroom dancing, dining etiquette, complete royal genealogy, and much more.
  • In Disney's version of The Prince and the Pauper, the Prince is first seen sitting through a boring trigonometry lesson, passing the time playing tricks on his assistant Donald. When he trades places with Mickey, the latter has to endure the various lessons set for the Prince, all of which he fails miserably.
  • In Gay Purr-ee, Meowrice takes Mewsette to Mme. Rubens-Chatte for lessons in how to be lady-like. He plans to make a huge profit by marrying her to a rich American cat.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In King Ralph, an American schlub becomes King of England when the entire Royal family is killed in a photography accident. (He is the bastard grandson of a duke.) After he becomes king he is given lessons in acting royally by Sir Cedric.
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service: The Kingsmen live by the code 'manners maketh man.' A big part of Eggsy's Training from Hell, in addition to being a superspy, is learning how to be a gentleman, including buying him his first proper suit, and improving his palette for expensive drinks.
  • The Princess Diaries covers Mia's princess education. Despite the fact that the clumsy, awkward Mia doesn't take naturally to any of her lessons and clowns her way through them, she still absorbs quite a lot, and is able to demonstrate much of what she's learned in her grand debut at the end of the film.
  • In The Mask of Zorro, Don Diego de la Vega (the former Zorro), now an old Impoverished Patrician who had his child abducted and raised by his nemesis, teaches the new Zorro (Alejandro Murrieta, who was a thug and Zorro's fan) on how to be classy so he can infiltrate the party that his nemesis held.
  • The plot of one Three Stooges short involved a bet between two gentlemen about whether three street bums (the stooges) could be turned into polite members of high society. They could not.
  • Titanic (1997): Jack is put through one by Molly Brown since after saving Rose he is invited to the Captain's Table. She gets him a tux, teaches him some conversational gambits, and tells him he shines up like a new penny.

    Literature 
  • In Empire Star, Prince Nactor's sister mentions that she ran away from Miss Perrypicker's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies, which she describes as "a perfectly dreadful place where basically nice young ladies are taken from the best families and taught to appear so simplex you wouldn't believe it."
  • Enchanted Forest Chronicles: Cimorene's introduction is a review of her attempts to get better training than her standard Princess Lessons could provide, explaining that she has random cooking, fencing, and Latin skills because she'd bully experts in interesting subjects until they tutored her, much to the chagrin of her parents, who insisted these were not subjects for a "proper" princess. All of these lessons — including the boring ones — turn out to be Chekhov's Skills.
  • Pip, the main character of Great Expectations, finds himself receiving a large sum of money from a mysterious benefactor so he can become a gentleman in London.
  • Just Ella: Ella, a merchant's daughter used to living as a maid-of-all-work, is subjected to these after being whisked away by Prince Charming at the ball. She eventually runs away because her new life is so stifling.
  • Phèdre's childhood in Kushiel's Legacy is filled with these. In the Night Court, she receives lessons in etiquette and comportment to prepare her for life as a High-Class Call Girl; after adopting her, Anafiel Delaunay expands the curriculum to include court politics, arts and sciences, languages, espionage, self-defense, and the arts of love.
  • In Malory Towers, Gwendoline, an old student, returns to teach the sixth formers etiquette.
  • The entire princess lessons thing is deconstructed in A Song of Ice and Fire. The Stark sisters, Sansa and Arya, receive them. Arya resents the lessons, fails them constantly, preferring swordplay and adventures, and eventually gets stuck as a lost child in the middle of a war-torn land (with all of the dire consequences this has). Sansa likes the lessons and succeeds in them, and they eventually help her survive in a hostile Deadly Decadent Court, but several other characters point out that she's an Empty Shell just going through the motions they taught her.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The premise of the UK Reality Television show Ladette to Lady revolves around a group of "ladettes" trying to learn how to become ladies at a finishing school.
  • The made-for-TV movie The Man in the Iron Mask from 1977 has France's Louis XIV imprison his twin brother Phillippe in the remote fortress on the Ile Sainte-Marguerite. A daring rescue is effected by The Three Musketeers, who hope to supplant the pompous, irrational Louis with a more effective regent. Firstly, however, they must educate Phillippe in all things cultured and stately, including politics, swordsmanship and equestrian arts.

    Theater 
  • My Fair Lady: Eliza Doolittle receives such lessons from Professor Henry Higgins after he made a bet with Colonel Pickering.

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 

    Web Original 
  • Whateley Universe: Exemplar Grace class:
    [The] final exercise was to do an entire combat in high-heels and a skirt while holding a full cup of hot tea! Even worse, I was only allowed to hold onto the saucer! You have to disable your opponent without breaking a heel, marring your makeup, spilling the tea, or being immodest with your skirt.

    Western Animation 
  • Surprisingly, Toph from Avatar: The Last Airbender does this. She was born into Earth Kingdom High society, so she knows how to act like a proper lady, she just chooses not to. She's able to help clean up Katara for a palace party hosted by the Earth King but she doesn't even attempt with Sokka and Aang. They're that hopeless.
  • The Flintstones: Fred goes through one of these to become "Frederick J. Mumblemumble" so he can hang out with the snooty wealthy of Bedrock on their own territory.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: In "My So Called Wife", Mr. Herriman has to teach Coco how to behave like a lady when a rich benefactor thought that she was his wife and the two were invited into his mansion for the charity. All the while, Mac teaches Bloo what sarcasm means.
  • Hey Arnold!: The episode "Polishing Rhonda" had Rhonda and Big Patty signed up for a finishing school by their parents when the two of them got into a scuffle in school. Rhonda hadn't done very well due to her Spoiled Brat tendencies, while Patty excelled. Eventually Rhonda asked Patty for help and eventually the two of them passed.
  • Wendy took such lessons in an episode of The Legend of White Fang. Notably, during her first attempt to bake a cake, she used all the yeast she had.
  • Recess had an episode where the Ashleys challenge Tomboy Spinelli to a Beauty Pageant. Bizarrely, sports loving Vince is the hyper-competent coach schooling Spinelli in how to win in a Pageant. His justification is that his characterization is hyper-competitive and will learn how to win at any competition he sets his mind too... he's meticulously studied Beauty Pageants just in case one of his friends was challenged to win one and needed to be taught how to win one. Ultimately, Spinelli wins by explaining to the judges that her rehearsed lines weren't really who or what she's all about, who in turn find it refreshing that for once, someone isn't using the same cliche lines.
  • In the Sonic Boom episode, "My Fair Sticksy", when Sticks gets nominated for an Awardy Award, Amy decides to teach her how to be more lady-like so that people will see her more as a lady than as a feral badger, especially around her, Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles. Although Sticks doesn't really get the hang of any of it, Sonic decides to escort her so that he can keep an eye on her. After the Awardy Award both Sticks and Dr. Eggman were nominated for gets awarded to Leroy the Turtle, Eggman takes out his anger by attacking Sonic and his friends. Sticks tries to remain ladylike at first, but when her friends all get captured, she decides to go back to her old ways, and in the end, it saves her friends.
  • Played straight and subverted in an episode of the short-live animated series, The Wuzzles. Butterbear and Crock have a wager that she can teach his slovenly henchbeast, Brat, to be a proper gentleman for an important party and succeeds. The subversion comes when her friends (after getting scolded by Butterbear for their lack of good manners and are forced to learn classy behavior in time for the same party) go find a book on how to be more classy, Crock overhears them and thinks the book is for Butterbear in teaching Brat, and puts the title of a book on classy behavior on a book for "teaching 'bad manners'". Instead of learning how to be proper, they're taught to behave even worse.
  • Sofia the First has six-year old Sofia, who was made a princess when her civilian mother married a king, as going to a princess school with other international princesses. Unlike most examples, she likes it.

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