History of the Debutante Ball

The idea of the debutante ball stems from a time when a girl of marriageable age was presented to society to find a husband of suitable social standing. The debutante tradition here in the United States has roots in Europe. "Debutante" comes from the French word "debuter," which means "to lead." In 1748, 59 colonial families held "dancing assemblies" as the forerunner to the modern debutante ball, also called a cotillion. The debutante ball is traditionally for a group of debutantes although some balls may be hosted with just one or two close relatives. Today, the majority of balls are held between November and January.

Modern debutante balls tend to be more common in the South, although they are still held throughout the U.S. Although the original balls were intended to introduce young women into society, they have now evolved into charity events. An established member of elite society or a distinguished committee generally sponsors debutantes and the debutante's parents donate an established amount of money to a designated cause. Guests must be formally invited and pay for their own tickets. These balls are often very elaborate affairs and require formal dress.

Although the rules for the original debutante dresses varied depending on the current monarchy, they were all traditionally white, accessorized by white gloves and pearls. Feathers in the headdress and a veil were supposed to help symbolize that the young woman was ready for marriage. In the cases when a woman made her debut after marriage, a tiara instead of a veil was substituted. Today the tradition of the white debutante dress is still upheld in stricter societies. In some cases, a committee must approve the dress months in advance. Some of the things that are taken into consideration are modesty and whether the dress will allow comfortable movement as the debutante greets her guests in a receiving line.

As the debutante ball tradition progresses, the tradition of a white dress is going by the wayside in some areas of the country. Often, the dress code extends to nothing more than formal dress.

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