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Last Débutantes?

Was 1958 the year of the last Débutantes?

By Joffre Agnes

Are you proficient in the art of the perfect curtsey? Kensington Palace is currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of the last Court presentation (1958): This journey into the annual agenda of the British high society made me wonder if 1958 was really the year of the last debutantes?
Every year, the prestigious international Bal des Debutantes  takes place at the Hotel Crillon in Paris. Girls from a high society background are still presented to the world wearing astonishingly glamourous dresses and, both in France and in the UK, there is still a “Season” with events high society members have to be seen at… So are the debutantes really dead?  Roll on your gloves and practise your curtsey, you are about to be given an insight into the secret world of high society!


The Last Debutantes at the Kensington Palace
The Last Debutantes at the Kensington Palace

In the UK, well-bred girls from the ‘best’ families were traditionally launched into society at 17 or 18 by curtseying to the young Queen Elizabeth during the Bal des Débutantes before enjoying a whirlwind of parties, dinners, lunches, teas and dances in search of the perfect husband.  This was then an inevitable rite of passage into the grown-up world. Queen Elizabeth decided to end it in 1958 probably because it was becoming somewhat anachronistic when London was swinging and the frivolous 60s were already on the horizon. Kensington Palace dedicated this exhibition to the last ceremony of 1958 as a symbol of changing times. However, is the art of the curtsey really behind us?

Not in France at least since the French elite copied this British tradition from 1957 until 1968. Mr Andre Tarbes offered to the French debutantes the chance of being introduced in the sparkling world wearing a white dress, gloves and a tiara whether at the Opéra Garnier or at Versailles; no less. However, even France could hold on to this elitist tradition when the libertarian wave of May 68 started. It took a good many years before little princesses were able to attend their balls again!

In 1991, Ophélie Renouard decided to organise a new Bal des Debutantes with a cool modern age. Ever since then, every year, the prestigious Hotel Crillon welcomes 24 of the most beautiful young and/or richest women from around the world of course, only the most eligible ones. Ophélie Renouard’s policy of mixing royalty with jet set and rich businessmen created some curious encounters.

2008 Bal des Debutantes - Hotel Crillon
2008 Bal des Debutantes - Hotel Crillon

Indeed who could have imagined Bruce Willis’s daughter attending a party with some royal members? Times have changed. There was a time when young girls from aristocratic background were the only ones allowed to take part in such events, wearing virginal white dresses and looking for the perfect husband. Nowadays they wear designer dresses and are modelling for a day in front of photographs and journalists. Debutantes may not be dead but they have clearly evolued and as has their way of life. What now has to be done to sparkle in the high society in France and in the UK?  If France has stolen the Bal des Debutantes from the Brits, have French people outstripped them in the art of high society?

Discover the London Season and the French "Circuit".


21/01/2018 - aindelal said :

Are the French pretending that the Revolution never happened? Are they forgetting they abolished their monarchy? Surely one either has " egalite" as a national aim, or one doesen't. The idea of debutantes being presented (and presented to whom, exactly?) does seem incompatible with post-revolutionary France; indeed ot seems quite ridiculous.


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