|"The prettiest sight in this fine pretty world |
is the privileged class enjoying its privileges."
— Macaulay Connor (Jimmy Stewart) in The Philadelphia Story
Debutante balls aren't just for the cast of Gossip Girl — they're a grand tradition alive and well in New York City and around the world. On Monday night, December 29, 2008, the International Debutante Ball was held at the Waldorf-Astoria, marking the coming out into society for 47 young ladies, who were handpicked from the daughters of families in the Social Register. This year's crop of lovely ladies came from 11 states as well as England, France, Germany, Greece, and Hong Kong.
Debutante balls are a few hundred years old. Traditionally, a young woman would "come out" into society at a debutante ball — it was a rite of passage and a declaration that one was in the market for marriage. Usually, this would take place between the ages of 16 and 18, but exceptions abounded. Remember Lady Catherine's shock in Pride and Prejudice, that all of Lizzie's sisters were already "out"?
Nowadays, coming out has little to do with getting married — it seems to be all about networking and making contacts. A great part, certainly, is the wealthy congratulating each other for their wealth and social status, and for their beautiful daughters — and if nose jobs, $15,000 designer gowns, tiaras, pearls, opera length kid gloves, and droves of makeup and hair magicians, &c. &c. &c. don't turn your Princess Fiona from a troll into a lovely maiden... ouch!
The evening begins at 7:30 with all the belles lined up to greet the guests in the receiving line. Around 9pm, a dinner is served in the sumptuously decorated ball room. The tables each boast flower arrangements nearly 4 ft tall, and buckets of champagne. For each table a family reserves, they write a check for $14,000. The debutantes are served food in an adjoining room, but it goes mostly untouched due to nerves, worry over spilling, and simple adolescent excitement. The dessert is raspberries in a chocolate 'box', the lid of which has leaves dipped in real gold.
At 11, the debutantes are presented one by one; each is escorted by a civilian 'beau' and a member of the uniformed 'color guard'. When the debutante reaches the stage, she turns around and performs an elaborate curtsey to the crowd.
The rest of the evening is dedicated to dancing and socializing, and the festivities go on until the wee hours. For the girls, it is a night few will ever forget.
2,6, AP Photo