Lee Grant – Photography Blog

The Debutante – Society’s Teen Bride

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I had the fantastic opportunity to go to my first deb ball last weekend. For those of you who do not know this old custom, let’s take a look at what our dear old Wikipedia has to say about this :

“A debutante (or deb) (French word for “female beginner”) is a young lady from an aristocratic or upper class family who has reached the age of maturity, and as a new adult, is introduced to society at a formal presentation known as her “debut” or “coming out.” Originally, it meant the young woman was eligible for marriage, and part of the purpose was to display her to eligible bachelors and their families with a view to marriage within a select upper class circle. This traditional event varies by region, but is typically referred to as a debutante ball.

In Australia, some debutante balls (or colloquially “deb balls”) are held in year 11 or 12 of the Australian Government funded school system through the school, although some are held outside the school system by organisations such as the local chapter of Lions Club. Girls do not have to ‘make their deb’ and today many girls elect not to or see deb balls as irrelevant. Equally, the ongoing tradition indicates that the debutante ball as rite of passage is alive and well in Australia.

It is customary for the female to ask a male to the debutante ball, with males not being able to “do the deb” unless they are asked. Debutante ball students who are partaking in the official proceedings must learn how to ballroom dance. Debutante balls are almost always held in a reception centre or ballroom. Usually they are held late in the year and consist of dinner, dancing and speeches by the school captains. Schools often restrict invitations to the debutante ball to students within the grade level at one school, but single-sex schools tend to allow a partner with no association to the school to attend. The debutante ball traditionally is a rite of passage for some Australian school students, both male and female, and represents their coming of age. They are often, but not always, similar to American proms. [2].

The girl wears a white wedding dress-like ball gown, while the boy wears a tuxedo. When a girl attends a non-Government school, the girl is invited to take part and her family pay for the ball. They are presented to the Governor of the State or other dignitary.”

On this occasion, the girls were presented to the Mayor (wearing tartan pants!), his wife and a lady-in-waiting. I was rather expecting a more American style event, a little like the formals in the city. I guess being a small country town, tradition is upheld a little more scrupulously perhaps?

I was surprised at the formality of the proceedings – though it should be pointed out that there was no alcohol at the event, not even for the parents – which would in part explain this. The debutantes themselves were really amazing…. like brides in training. And really, the evening was just like a mass wedding… there was the bridal dance and they even had a cake which they all cut together (8 girls and 8 boys). It was a little surreal to see teenagers playing dress-ups and grown-ups. Whilst they are almost adults, they are still effectively, children. I tried to picture my own daughter at 16 (only another 7 years) and wondered if she might choose to do her Deb, and I have to say…..it seemed a strange thought.

The Debs

I’m planning to continue photographing the re-emergence of these traditions and am interested in contrasting the regional experience to the urban one. I dare say that this research will further feed into my work on the culture, ephemera and mania of the wedding (take a look at Bride for a Day on my Flickr site for some recent photographs). Ah yes, the rituals of girls and women….. too interesting not to photograph. Plus, it sits nicely with my work on ‘man-culture’. A little ethnographic perhaps, but given that I am not in the travel mode – well for now at least – what better place to look at than your own backyard?



Written by Lee Grant

August 7, 2007 at 10:33 pm

One Response

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  1. hey im really interested in doing my debutante ball in 2008 as it is a long tradition in my family.

    i recently moved from the country and where i was going to make my debu at. would you please be able to help me with some organisations that do so in Sydney

    Tahlia Luke-Browning

    June 4, 2008 at 6:25 pm

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