Debutante dress

gown worn by girls at debutante cotillions or for presentation at court

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Debutante dresses in Australia in 1952
58th International Debutante Ball, 2012, New York City (Waldorf-Astoria Hotel)
American debutantes, February 2009

A debutante dress is a pure white ball gown, accompanied by long white gloves[1] and pearls worn by girls or young women at their debutante cotillion. Debutante cotillions were traditional coming of age celebrations for eligible young ladies ready to be presented to society as ready for marriage. Once restricted to young women from wealthy families on the social register, the traditional long, white formal dress and opera-length kid gloves of the debutante are more and more frequently also worn by daughters of the middle class.[2]

Required rules of dress

The debutante costume (both then and now) is a white formal gown worn with long white gloves. With its long skirt, a debutante’s dress could easily be mistaken for a wedding gown. [3] A young lady's gown was regulated by a set of meticulously defined rules which were strictly enforced. These rules varied from monarchy to monarchy and didn't always follow the fashion of the time. White was the preferred color for her gown, although soft colors such as ivory or eggshell were acceptable as long as they were over a white background.[4] The headdress always included feathers and a veil although the number and size of the feathers varied with the time. Married women wore a tiara.[5] Over the centuries, styles and fashion have changed. But, the one constant which ties the early debutante in England to the modern-day American debutante, is the wearing of white kidskin above-the-elbow(=opera) length long debutante gloves.[6] The Debutante Glove has been recognized for over a century as one of the foremost symbols of upper-class femininity.[7] A debutante without gloves is not a debutante at all.[8] For today's formal debutante balls, the appropriate attire for a debutante is a white gown with a full skirt. The dress must be pure white and no other color should be used. Off-white or cream colors are not acceptable.[9][10] Similarly, the gloves must be white in color.[11]

Georgian era

During the reign of King George III and Queen Charlotte, the debutante dress featured a hoop skirt and elaborate trimmings which included a single ostrich plume worn on the head, even though simple dresses with high waists were favored. During the reign of King George IV, the hoop skirt was excluded and the style for a debutante gown became a variation of whatever was considered popular for formal evening wear during the period.[5]

Victorian era

A debutante dress ca. 1890

Débutante dresses were almost always short-sleeved and had to have a low neckline.[12] However a doctor's certificate could be presented at the time stating that low cut was injurious to the young woman's health.[5] After a débutante married, if she had married appropriately, she would be re-presented at Court as a married woman, usually wearing her wedding dress with alterations.[13]

Queen Victoria was said to have hated small feathers, so orders were sent out that Her Majesty wished to see the feathers as the young lady approached. Late in Queen Victoria's reign and into the court of Edward VII, the necessary headdress was three feathers arranged in a Prince of Wales plume. A center feather slightly higher than the two on each side worn slightly on the left side of the head.[5]

For young ladies and women to be presented who were in mourning, it was acceptable for their dresses and veils to be black. No matter how cold the weather was on this special day, absolutely no cloaks, shawls, capes, or wraps of any kind were permitted to be worn. Those items remained in the lady's carriage.[5]

See also


  1. ^ "A guide for purchasing gloves for Carnival balls and presentations". Retrieved 24 Jan 2014.
  2. ^ "Debutante Dress". Retrieved 2021-11-12.
  3. ^ ""White Gloves, Whiter Women: Debutante Balls and the Reinforcement of White Femininity in the Post-War American South"by Allison Gordon". April 2019.
  4. ^ Post, Emily (2007). Etiquette: In Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home. Cosimo Inc. pp. 276–287. ISBN 978-1-60206-114-9.
  5. ^ a b c d e Aiello, Dawn. "Presentation At Court". Victorian Lace. Retrieved 20 February 2011.
  6. ^ "Coronet Debutante Ball". Retrieved 29 July 2021.
  7. ^ History of Debutante Gloves
  8. ^ Curtseys over cursing: 'Debutante' examines old-fashioned ceremony and its attendant good manners
  9. ^ "Debutante Season: Rules and Rituals". Nov 12, 2014.
  10. ^ "Debutante Dress Code". Retrieved 2021-09-11.
  11. ^ "Look Hot, Keep Cool: How You Can Dress for a Debutante Ball". Retrieved 2021-09-23.
  12. ^ Steele, Valerie (2010). The Berg Companion to Fashion. Berg Publishers. pp. 204–205. ISBN 978-1-84788-563-0.
  13. ^ Frelinghuysen, Alice Cooney (1989). American porcelain, 1770-1920. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 9780810911789.
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