Once seen as a rite of passage for affluent young women, finishing schools conjure images of etiquette lessons, dance instructions, and training in social graces. But do these vestiges of bygone eras still exist in the 21st century?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: While the popularity of finishing schools has declined over the decades, a small number of traditional finishing schools persist today in the United States and abroad, catering to wealthy families seeking a unique educational experience for their daughters before college.

In this approximately 1500 word article, we’ll take a deep dive into the current state of finishing schools. We’ll explore the history of these specialized institutions, examine how finishing schools have evolved and adapted over time, look at a few prominent examples that still operate today, and analyze the reasons why finishing schools have largely fallen out of favor in modern society.

The History and Purpose of Finishing Schools

The Rise of Finishing Schools in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Finishing schools have a rich history dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During this time, women were expected to be refined and well-mannered, preparing them for their future roles as wives and mothers.

Finishing schools emerged as institutions that specifically catered to young women from affluent families, providing them with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate high society.

These schools became increasingly popular among the upper class, as they offered a comprehensive curriculum that included etiquette, social graces, language skills, music, art, and even physical education.

The aim was to mold young women into polished and cultured individuals who would be desirable partners in marriage and respected members of society.


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A post shared by Australian Finishing School – Amanda King (@australianfinishingschool)


What Did Traditional Finishing Schools Teach?

Traditional finishing schools placed a strong emphasis on social etiquette and manners. Young women were taught how to walk, talk, and dress elegantly, as well as how to navigate social situations with grace and poise.

They learned proper table manners, conversation skills, and how to host and attend formal events.

Additionally, these schools offered instruction in a wide range of subjects to cultivate a well-rounded education. Girls learned to play musical instruments, speak multiple languages, and appreciate art and literature.

Physical education was also a part of the curriculum, with classes in dance, gymnastics, and horseback riding.


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The Decline of Finishing Schools in the 20th Century

As societal norms and expectations evolved, the relevance and popularity of finishing schools began to decline in the 20th century. The rise of feminism and the push for gender equality challenged the traditional roles assigned to women, shifting the focus from marriage and domesticity to education and career opportunities.

Additionally, the accessibility of education increased, allowing women to pursue higher education in universities and colleges. This provided them with a broader range of academic and professional opportunities, making finishing schools less necessary for their social and personal development.

Today, while the concept of finishing schools may not be as prevalent as it once was, there are still programs and institutions that offer similar training and development for individuals seeking to enhance their social skills and professional presence.

How Have Finishing Schools Endured and Adapted?

Finishing schools, although relatively less popular than in previous decades, still exist today in various forms, reflecting the changing needs and expectations of society. They have evolved to meet the demands of the modern world while preserving the essence of their traditional teachings.

Remaining Traditional Finishing Schools Worldwide

While the number of traditional finishing schools has decreased, some still maintain their classic approach to etiquette and refinement. These schools continue to offer comprehensive programs that focus on manners, social graces, and personal grooming.


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A post shared by Australian Finishing School – Amanda King (@australianfinishingschool)


They emphasize the importance of proper behavior in various settings, including formal events, business meetings, and everyday interactions. Students attending these schools often come from privileged backgrounds, seeking to enhance their social skills and polish their overall image.

One example of a traditional finishing school is the prestigious Institut Villa Pierrefeu located in Switzerland. It has been operating since 1954 and continues to attract students from around the world who want to refine their social skills and cultural awareness.

The school offers courses in etiquette, international protocol, and personal development.


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A post shared by Institut Villa Pierrefeu (@ivpworld)


Alternative Approaches: Etiquette and Social Skills Training

Recognizing the need for more flexible and accessible options, many institutions have shifted their focus to offer etiquette and social skills training programs. These programs are designed to cater to a wider audience, including professionals, individuals transitioning into new social or professional environments, and those looking to improve their overall confidence and social interactions.

Organizations such as the Emily Post Institute, founded by renowned etiquette expert Peggy Post, offer online courses and workshops that cover a range of topics, including table manners, professional communication, and digital etiquette.


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These modern approaches to finishing school provide individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate various social situations in today’s fast-paced and diverse world.

Criticisms and Controversies Facing Finishing Schools

Despite their enduring presence, finishing schools have not been exempt from criticism and controversy. Some argue that these schools perpetuate elitism and reinforce outdated gender roles. Critics contend that the focus on appearance and social status undermines the importance of personal growth and individuality.

However, proponents of finishing schools argue that they provide valuable guidance and support in an increasingly competitive and interconnected society. They argue that learning proper etiquette and social skills can empower individuals to navigate social and professional settings with confidence and grace.

It is important to note that the relevance and acceptance of finishing schools vary across cultures and societies. While some view them as outdated institutions, others see them as valuable resources for personal and professional development.

Are Finishing Schools Still Relevant?

Finishing schools, once popular among the elite, have undergone significant changes in recent years. With shifting views on gender roles and privilege, the value of social skills and cultural literacy, and the changing definition of success, the relevance of finishing schools in 2023 is a topic of debate.

Changing Views on Gender Roles and Privilege

In the past, finishing schools were often seen as a way to refine young women’s manners and prepare them for marriage and societal expectations. However, in today’s society, gender roles have evolved, and the idea of women needing special training to conform to societal norms is being challenged.

Women have made significant strides in education, careers, and leadership roles, breaking traditional gender barriers. As a result, the need for finishing schools solely focused on women may be diminishing.

According to a study by Pew Research Center, the number of women in the workforce has been steadily increasing over the past few decades. This indicates a shift in societal expectations and a recognition of women’s capabilities beyond traditional roles.

The Value of Social Skills and Cultural Literacy

While the traditional notion of finishing schools may be fading, the importance of social skills and cultural literacy remains relevant. In a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected, individuals who possess strong interpersonal skills and an understanding of different cultures have a competitive advantage.

These skills can enhance personal and professional relationships, foster empathy, and promote effective communication in diverse settings.

According to Huffington Post. individuals with strong social skills have higher levels of job satisfaction and are more likely to be successful in their careers.

Preparing for Elite Social Circles vs. Broader Success

One of the criticisms of finishing schools is that they primarily focus on preparing individuals for elite social circles rather than broader success in life. While etiquette and refinement are valuable skills, they may not be the sole determining factors of success in today’s world.

A well-rounded education, practical skills, and adaptability to changing environments are equally important in achieving professional and personal goals.

A comparison of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the demand for jobs requiring technical skills and specialized knowledge is on the rise, highlighting the need for a broader skill set beyond social graces.


While once ubiquitous among wealthy Western families, traditional finishing schools have declined over the past century due to shifting cultural attitudes and educational priorities. However, a handful of established finishing schools persist today, providing young women with intensive training in etiquette, arts, and social graces before college.

Though finishing schools are now rare, the broader concepts they represent—developing poise, cultural literacy, and communication abilities—remain valuable for success in many spheres of life. Elements of finishing schools’ teachings may evolve and take new forms to suit modern sensibilities.

But cultivating social intelligence and sophistication, when tempered with ethics and perspective, will always have merit in our complex, highly connected world.

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