Debutante Season: Rules and Rituals

Debutante season is upon us: a time when young women don their white gowns and are presented to society.

The formal debutante ball is usually held right around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, when young women are home from college. These formal events call for a certain etiquette for the debutante, her escorts, her family, and guests.

Dress Code

The proper attire for a debutante is, of course, a white gown with a full skirt. Dresses must be pure white, with no other colors. Off-white or cream is not acceptable. While the dress may be adorned with a few white crystals or lace panels, most debutante ball committees prefer for the dresses to be as plain and traditional as possible.

Choose appropriate accessories to go with the dress. A young debutante should have, at the minimum, a pair of long white gloves and white satin shoes with proper heel height. Proper heel height is determined by the final length of the gown and the height of the debutante.

Guests at the debutante ball should be dressed in their finest formal attire. Women should select a formal gown for the occasion, and men should be dressed in a tuxedo. Black tie is standard.

Entrances

A debutante ball begins with a grand entrance by the debs. The debutantes are assigned two male escorts who will accompany them into the main ballroom. They will then bring the girls to the front of the room or, in some cases, up onto a stage where they are introduced and must perform a special curtsy known as a Texas Dip. All other attendees are expected to watch the events and applaud when appropriate but otherwise remain silent.

Dinner and Dancing

After the entrances, a formal dinner is held. Proper manners should be used at the dinner table, such as laying the napkin on your lap and placing it on the table when you are finished eating. Take small bites, do not talk with your mouth full, and use the correct silverware for the corresponding course. Speeches may take place after dinner, at which time attendees are expected to stop eating and listen quietly. Once dinner is finished, there is usually dancing for all guests.

Gifts

Guests are not expected to give gifts to the debutante. However, if guests wish to do something, sending a bouquet of flowers to the young lady’s home prior to the event is most acceptable. Parents or grandparents of the debutante may wish to present their young lady with a keepsake gift, such as a strand of pearls, diamond-stud earrings, or an engraved piece of jewelry—it should be a classic gift that the debutante may wear throughout her life and that commemorates this special event.