Inside the Life of a Debutante, from the Dress Fitting to the Ball
November 11, 2013 | Teen Vogue
I'm probably not who you think of when you think of a debutante. I'm not from the South, I'm not descended from European royalty—I grew up in California and am currently a women's studies grad student at Oord. Nonetheless, I was lucky enough to take part in the annual Queen Charlotte's Ball, the oldest debutante ball in the UK (it's been around since 1780!) at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
After leaving the sleepy college town of Oord early in the morning, I arrived in London at noon, where the rest of the debs and I were immediately told to put on heels and nude-colored tights. (I used to think this was a fashion faux pas, but Kate Middleton wears pantyhose, and it makes a welcoming difference when you're cold!) We then spent hours in rehearsal, practicing our curtseys and attempting to walk gracefully in heels, which isn't so easy when you spend most of your days sloughing around in rain boots around campus. Afterwards, we dashed back into our changing rooms for hair, makeup, and—the best part—the selection of our tiaras.
It was an international assortment of debs from the UAE, China, Sweden, Czech Republic, and a slew of other countries. But in contrast to most of the other girls, this was a last minute effort on my end—I went to London for my dress fitting with Caroline Castigliano on the Tuesday before the ball, right after I hopped out of a research seminar with my books still in my bag. This was all happening only three weeks after I arrived in England! And while I enjoyed the festivities (prep and all) immensely, my mind was on an essay that was due in a few days. In fact, I spent my free time between rehearsals and wardrobe trying to read a book about British intellectuals. Most girls hope to be the belle of the ball—I stake my chances on being the nerd of the ball. I don't think my professor would have accepted "being a debutante" as an excuse for late work!
As the ball began that evening, after guests enjoyed a champagne reception and were seated at their tables, we made our way, one by one, to the six-tiered cake. Contrary to popular belief, you don't curtsey to the cake—you curtsey to the hosts of the ball, which in our case were Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia, Princess Olga Romanov of Russia, and the Duke and Duchess of Somerset. After making our presentation, we changed into different outfits—I wore a Missoni ball gown skirt with a Topshop crop top, in my typical high-low fashion—and we enjoyed dinner, a charity auction, and swing dancing. I dare to admit that this was much better than my high school prom.
So, why did I do it? Ultimately I chose to participate as a debutante to learn about event planning and philanthropy, in addition to meeting other people with different backgrounds and life stories. As a proud and outspoken feminist, I'd like to believe I live in a world where my individual agency as a young woman is acknowledged. Yes, I agreed to wear a fluffy white dress for a night of traditions that seem anachronistic to some, but there's a rich tapestry of history involved in all female experiences, from debutante balls to suffrage movements. Most importantly, these types of events open up opportunities for critical dialogue on femininity, coming-of-age, and tradition in a complex, interconnected world.