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What is a Debutante Ball?

Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

A debutante ball is an event where a young woman, or in some cultures, a young man, is formally introduced into society. In many societies, such a ball is associated with wealthy and socially-influential families. The United States, England, Ireland and Australia all have variations on this event.

In Australia, a debutante ball is often part of the high school system. It is usually optional and only for those students, both male and female, who wish to take part. Both men and women are included because the ball symbolizes the debut of the soon-to-graduate high school student into the young adult world. Traditionally, the girl asks the boy to the ball, and dinner, speeches, and ballroom dancing are all features of the evening.

A mid-20th century debutante ball in Australia.
A mid-20th century debutante ball in Australia.

In Ireland, these balls are often quite similar to high school proms in the United States. They are a school function and students either go with formal dates or with an informal group of friends. Students often travel by limousine for the occasion. Ballroom dancing is often available, but is traditionally not considered a mandatory activity.

In England, the history of the debutante ball centers around ceremonies that involved the debutante having to wear certain clothing, such as a feather head dress. Traditionally, English debutantes were introduced by former debutantes, often their mothers if they had had a coming out, or else a mother-in-law introducing her son's new wife. Quite often, though, a debutante was a young woman ready to look for a husband. Queen Elizabeth II sanctioned court ceremonies for debutantes and began the English practice of more social introductions in the form of a ball.

An evening gown worn for a debutante ball.
An evening gown worn for a debutante ball.

In the United States, a debutante ball is also sometimes called a cotillion. American balls may be quite elite and formal, with a receiving line of young women all in white gowns who are introduced in turn on stage by their fathers. The debutante also often has a date at the ball, and sometimes more than one male date. The young men may also be dressed all in white or in a military uniform. Charity donations may be a part of the American ball.

Discussion Comments


It's an introduction to the society to inform the lady is mature. In other words, she's ready for marriage. The best part about a debs ball is getting to wear those beautiful deb dresses.


Your information was useful, therefore do you know of any debutante societies alive today?


Bhutan- I just want to add that these debutante photos will often have the guest of honor posing with her gown in a picturesque setting, or may also offer studio photographs with the debutante in her gown.

The photographer may or may not participate in the event.


Anon33972- I think that the writer referred to coming out as a term meaning that the young lady was now becoming a young women in society and later will be eligible for suitors and the like. Many societies have a variation of the debutante ball.

For example, in the Latin American culture a similar rite of passage is called the “Quince” which means 15.

This is an elaborate ball thrown to honor the 15 year old young lady. These debutante dresses are very traditional ball gowns with hooped skirts. Often long white debutante gloves accompany the debutante gowns.

Also, there is a traditional choreographed dance in which the guest of honor is introduced in a formal setting.

The young ladies in the court also have similar debutante ball dresses and a photographer is on hand to take the pictures of the milestone event.


This is also known as a coming out party in some cultures. You said the mother may introduce her daughter "if she had a coming out," but fail to explain that term. Just for the record, it has nothing to do with being gay or lesbian, as the "coming out" term is often applied today.

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    • A mid-20th century debutante ball in Australia.
      By: State Library Queensland
      A mid-20th century debutante ball in Australia.
    • An evening gown worn for a debutante ball.
      By: ksena32@ukrpost.ua
      An evening gown worn for a debutante ball.