Cesar Ritz (1850-1918), a Swiss entrepreneur and hotelier and the thirteenth child of a peasant couple, built the Ritz Hotel on Paris’s Vendome in 1898, and it became a symbol of palatial living. Its grandeur and its food, under the master chef Georges Auguste Escoffier, were designed for ultimate luxury and splendor. It was the gathering place for the elite and the children of the rich, whose mothers trusted this magnificent meeting place so much they allowed their daughters to go there unchaperoned.
Ritz built the elegant Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly, London, in 1906, and it was also quickly identified with sumptuous living. Then came the Ritz- Carlton Hotel in New York, which, like its two siblings, was lavish and costly. It set a standard for fashion and luxury. «To dine at the Ritz» was the equivalent of the best and most elegant in dining.
Ritz’s son and successor, Charles Ritz, carried on the family tradition by building a string of luxurious hotels around the world, all under the name Ritz-Carlton. Ritz became the most refined four-letter word in the English language.
Yet years ago, ritzy was defined by one lexicographer as «ostentatiously or vulgarly smart in appearance or manner».
With time ritzy became meliorated (a linguistic process whereby a word becomes more elevated in meaning) and came to signify the finer qualities inherent in luxurious, fashionable, and chic, a byword for sumptuous living. There has been since then nothing deprecatory about the word in the minds of many people — but not all. Some think that saying something is ritzy impugns good taste. It suggests pretentiousness and snobbery.
Many people today, and especially those who remember Irving Berlin’s hit song «Puttin’ on the Ritz», feel that ritzy connotes glittering opulence, but in a refined and acceptable genre; yet putting on the ritz is also a synonym for conspicious display or showing off.