The presentation of debutantes to the sovereign at court once marked the start of the social season.
From the time of Edward VII’s reign, court presentations of young women from aristocratic families took place to the monarch. The event was labeled as their “coming out” and the ladies were known as debutantes- the court presentation represented their first entree into society.
Those who wished to be presented had to have someone who had previously been presented to the Sovereign apply on their behalf. This could be their mother or someone close to the family, once accepted a royal summons from the Lord Chamberlain would be sent. This was also a great way for the debutantes to find a suitable bachelor. Bachelor’s would also be attending in hopes of finding their future wife.
Debutantes had to wear full court dress, with three tall ostrich feathers in their hair to set them apart- their presenter (typically their mother wore two feathers) and a dress with a train of a prescribed length. Upon entering, they would curtsey, after their presenter and they were announced, then perform a choregraphed backwards walk and another curtsy, never turning their back on the King or Queen. The ceremony was known as an evening court, corresponded to the “court drawing rooms” of Victoria’s reign- think Lady Rose in Downton Abbey to get a better idea!
Typically the court dress was a white evening dress with short sleeves, but certain shades of pink or ivory were allowed. White gloves and a veil attached with the three ostrich feathers in the hair and a train. Debutantes would finish their outfit with pearls and many would wear their family heirlooms.
The ceremony was replaced with more casual afternoon reception after the end of World War II, the choreographed curtsies and court dress also went away. The Queen did away with the debutantes presentation in 1958, in their place stood Garden Parties.
Peter Townsend, best known for his failure to marry Princess Margaret as she would have to renounce her royal privileges as he was a divorced man, made an attempt to keep the tradition by planning parties for the young women who would have been presented at Court. Yet with no royal patronage the events did not have much connection to the rest of the social season and became insignificant.
I wish I could go back to a time where the presentation of debutantes still existed. There is something I find so romantic about the whole event! I guess I will just have to settle for my dreams!
Photo Credit: Leonard Bentley via Flickr