Who Are The Debutantes?


Debutantes at the 1950 Queen Charlotte's Ball

They attract the eyes of all the ball attendees and are generally the stars of the night, but who are they really ?

The debutantes are the young ladies dressed in white and dancing at the opening ceremonies of most balls in Vienna and also so-called Debutantes balls. The debutante tradition started in the early 18th Century in England. As girls reached a marriageable age, they were presented to society so they could find a husband of suitable situation and similar social standing. One of the most famous debutantes ball was the Queen Charlotte’s ball, it was created around 1780 by George III of England for his wife’s birthday. The best bred and prettiest girls only were presented to the Queen and could meet potential husbands there- very often the brothers of other debutantes ! They would obviously wear a white evening dress, as a sign of their purity and virginity. The Queen Charlotte’s tradition went on until 1958 when it was abolished by Queen Elizabeth II.


Debutante Brenda Frazier in 1938

In the United States of America, that tradition was particularly active in the 1930’s despite the depression. Debutantes were very popular and some got elected “Debutante of the year” and would make headlines. In 1938, Brenda Frazier made the cover of Life. But the most famous of all debutantes was the 1947’s Debutante of the year Jacqueline Bouvier, who would marry Senator John F. Kennedy in 1953 and become First Lady in 1961.




Jacqueline Bouvier ( “Jacky Kennedy”) in 1947

Nowadays, there are still debutantes ball going on, but the tradition changed slightly. A Bal des debutantes was created in Paris in 1957, then stopped in 1968 to resurrect in 1991. The white dress tradition is not respected there. The Bal des debutantes in Paris became mainly a jetsetters event, where daughters of successful businessmen , famous actors and artists can meet and have the opportunity to wear fashion dresses and jewelry.


In most balls in Vienna, the event is still opened by Debutantes. The young ladies are usually from 17 to 24 years old and present a choreography that they learnt beforehand. To be a debutante at a ball in Vienna, you must be selected on your grace and ability to dance, one of the criteria being to be able to dance the reverse waltz. Selections are usually held a couple of months ahead of the ball. The choreography they present with their dance partners are usually a delightful and enchanting sight for the ball attendees !


Debutantes opening a Viennese Ball at the Hofburg in Vienna



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