Outrageous Facts About Debutante Balls (fact 1: They Still Exist)

Piper Weiss, Shine Staff


A recent debutante ball in Italy, and not a live-action Disney movie.
A recent debutante ball in Italy, and not a live-action Disney movie.

Bruce and Demi's youngest daughter just came out. That's 18th century debutante-speak for showing up at a fancy party in your honor, of course. This past weekend, 17-year Tallulah Willis 'came out', as they say, to society. Dressed in an Alber Elbaz gown, she waltzed along with 23 other teen heirs at Paris' famed Crillon Ball. Traditionally the gala event kicks off the start of debutante season around the world. A hundred or two years back, it was intended as "marriage market" for high society types. Now it's more of a fashion show but that doesn't make it any less antiquated. In fact you won't believe some of the traditions that have held up in deb culture today.


It's for the 1 percent of the 1 percent
. People pay upwards of $14,000 just to 'announce' their daughter's societal entry at one of the major balls in Paris, Venice or New York.

The only social network that matters isn't online. You can't just show up to a deb ball, cash in hand. You have to be invited with a piece of fancy paper, after you were decided upon by a committee of people who probably aren't on Facebook. Certainly, Ophelie Renouard isn't. She's the French aristocrat who spends her entire life scouting for prime debs for the next Crillon Ball. Do I need to add that she's scary? "At 16 they are still too child-like. But by the time they hit 18, they are already too well known," she told the Daily Mail of her scouting philosophy or maybe that was her recipe for delicious kid stew.

Cinderella is always in fashion. While the Crillon ball showcases a few contemporary designers, most debs wear the kind of gowns that could only be created with the words 'bippity boppity boo'. We're talking white, billowing window treatment gowns with crinolines large enough to host a Superbowl party. And don't forget the elbow length gloves.



Guys essentially pretend to be knights. Debutante dates aren't teenage boys (well they are), but they're called "cavaliers". They're cast as escorts based on their family connections, or sometimes their military background. Some are selected by the debs but other times are chosen by the party organizers and matched with girls by height. (At least that's what Anna Wintour mandated when her daughter came out at Paris' Crillon a few years back.)

Dancing requires ballroom classes. The big debutante waltz with her cavalier is one of the most important elements to coming out at any ball. It's second in importance only to the big deb curtsy when she's presented to the crowd.

It all sounds fairly stuffy, old-fashioned and expensive. So what's the appeal of a debutante ball in 2011? The attention. Parents used to pay to debut their daughters to potential suitors. Now they pay to debut them to the press. With anywhere from 20 to 300 photographers and reporters at the top social balls, the coming out party is a call to the society pages. It's a way of passing the social baton and ensuring the family name will live on in the pages of Town and Country and the Sunday Styles section-and not because of some nasty rumors or public divorce.

Even before the Crillion ball, the chosen debs are profiled by reporters despite having little more than their parents' name to boast. Then they're photographed getting prepped for the event, posing like somber statuettes. It's all very un-teenager like, which is the point if you're "coming of age." But it seems like a lot of effort for the kind of attention you can get these days with well-crafted tweet.

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