Making your debut

My girl cousins were all debutantes. Their “deb” photos were proudly displayed on my grandmother’s dinner wagon.

One of my cousins as a debutante.  Queensland c1960

One of my cousins as a debutante. Queensland c1960

Another cousin as a debutante.  Queensland c1960

Another cousin as a debutante. Queensland c1960

I wasn’t a deb because I lived in the city and debutante balls had by my teens ceased to be something that happened regularly in Australian cities. My cousins were mostly really of a different generation from me, my mother being towards the end of a large family and having started her own family at a more mature age than most of her siblings. When my cousins, aunts and my mother were teenagers living in the country or boarding at schools in regional towns, deb balls were a rite of passage.

The debutante ball originated in England where young women of the upper class were presented at court to the monarch. This marked their entry into society and meant that they were able to attend adult social events. The hidden (or not so hidden) agenda was also for them to meet prospective husbands from the same social level.

“On the day of the court presentation the débutante and her sponsor would be announced, the debutante would curtsy to the Sovereign, and then she would leave without turning her back.” (Wikipedia)

Court dresses were traditionally white or a similar colour such as cream, ivory, pearl, grey or pink. In Australia, white has always been fairly standard.

Court dress c1890

Court dress c1890

In the days when my mother and her sisters made their debuts (1920s-1940s), they were required to find a male partner to take to the ball which was organised by the local community. Any girl who had never worn a ball dress before could make her debut.

Measurements were sent to a dressmaker who chose the design and mailed the finished dress.
The ball was presided over by a matron of honour to whom the girls were presented. Sometimes there were flower girls and page boys as part of the party.

The debutantes, matron of honour, flower girls and page boys at the ceremony in which my aunt, Phyllis Mulcahy, made her debut.

The debutantes, matron of honour, flower girls and page boys at the ceremony in which my aunt, Phyllis Mulcahy, made her debut. She is in the back row, fifth from the right. Urbenville,NSW c1940

Many members of the local community attended the ball. It was no doubt a good excuse to get together for a party. For many girls it was probably the highlight of the year. My mother described it as “excrutiating”.

May Mulcahy as a debutante. Urbenville, NSW c1945

May Mulcahy as a debutante. Urbenville, NSW c1945

Photo credits:

St Edmundsbury Borough Council [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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