The Four Hundred: Then and Now

by Natasha Wolff | October 19, 2015 12:00 pm

Four hundred might be one of the only numbers that has a place in the dictionary. Its definition reads: “The social elite of a community.” But it wasn’t until the late 1800s that 400 had any real value.

Before The Real Housewives of NYC, Mrs. Caroline Schermerhorn Astor dominated Gilded Age New York society, throwing the balls that everyone who was anyone attended. The problem was that her ballroom only held 400 people, and thanks to the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution, there were now many more than 400 high society millionaires in New York City. So she had to narrow down the list of invitees to the absolute most important and elite New Yorkers. She enlisted self-proclaimed society expert Ward McAllister to help her whittle down the numbers, and The Four Hundred was born. Those who made the cut included Roosevelts and Winthrops, among other famously fancy last names.  

The balls were lavish annual parties thrown at the Astor mansion in Manhattan (which was located where the Empire State Building stands today), with supper, entertainment, dancing and over-the-top party favors—apparently she once gave the men silver trumpets! Women wore gowns designed specifically for these soirees and men donned their best tuxes.

While over the years the list has become less and less concrete and the rules have changed, the term Four Hundred still represents class and status, thanks in part to Tony Abrams.  

In late 2006, Abrams realized that the old-world version of society had pretty much dissolved and wanted to piece it back together. He decided to create an elite network that catered to a 21st century crowd by founding a lifestyle management firm called…you guessed it…Four Hundred. “These wealthy families have financial advisors, real estate portfolio managers and more,” Abrams explains. “I wanted to give them what they couldn’t get from those people.” He wanted to help them enjoy the lives they’d made for themselves—help them plan their summer vacations, throw parties, keep their social lives organized. Abrams wasn’t necessarily trying to recreate the glitz and glamour of simpler times, but he likes to think that what his company does is “pretty parallel” to what Astor and McAllister were doing years ago.  

Who are the members? 

According to Abrams, his clients are “celebrities in their own right, whether it be in finance, politics or entertainment.” They are people that work hard and work a lot, and they can use an extra hand when it comes to enjoying life. 

What does Four Hundred offer? 

Members of Four Hundred are given “lifestylists” who will make sure your every social want and need is met. Want to go to a movie premiere? Just let them know. If you need to plan a trip, they’ve got it covered. And the best part is that all it takes is one email. When you first become a client, they ask you about what you like to do, your taste in music, your favorite foods, allergies and more. That way, they can also come to you with ideas. “We’re not experts in paying bills, but we are experts in finding what hotel our client should be staying at and what restaurants they should try,” Abrams explains. And the services are not just limited to your place of residence. “The best perk, in my opinion, is that these families have an army of resourceful executors and lifestylists at their beck and call,” Abrams inserts. Plus, members also receive access to a network of people within modern day high society. “We’ve spent years building this community of influential people, and now’s the time to bring them together,” he says.

Where do we sign up? 

Four Hundred currently caters to about 150 families. They have offices in New York, Miami and Los Angeles and are currently looking to build communities in London and San Francisco. Membership is by invitation only. “You have to be referred to us by a partner or current member. We then review the prospective client with our membership committee, which is made up of a very elite group of Board Directors, to see if they are the right fit for us and we are the right fit for them,” Abrams explains. “It’s a very personal concept, so the client has to be able to open up to us for it to work.” If you are accepted, membership costs $2,500 per month.

It seems like Mrs. Astor would be proud.

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