Those were the words that preceded my second daughter’s name last Saturday as we walked onto the stage in the Muehlebach Imperial Ballroom. The occasion? I was introducing her to society and thus declaring that she was now eligible for courting.
For generations, this special occasion as been referenced as a young woman’s “coming out,” “debut,” “presentation” or “taking her bow.”
The tradition started in the late 19th century as aristocrats, hoping to create a merger of land, title or money, started the matchmaking as their daughters celebrated a predetermined birthday. The debutante ball season often coincided with the holiday season, with dozens of debs being presented to equally qualified suitors. “Courting” started quickly, lasted six months, followed by a short engagement and by June, there was a wedding. Thus, the notion of being a “June Bride” became established.
Nowadays, girls are invited by high-profile social groups to be a debutante, without the assumption that an engagement is next. The invitation has less to do with the young lady’s qualifications and more about her heritage i.e. the civic contributions of her parents and/or grandparents.
Once reserved for the daughters of Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Kennedy type lineages, our country continues this lovely tradition as an encouragement for these young adults to become engaged in the future of the sponsoring organization. Particularly in the south and the east coast, the Deb Season is alive and well. (We’ve all heard of the “Texas Dip,” an almost face-to- floor low curtsey that is practiced for weeks.)
In Kansas City, we have five such Debutante Balls: Jewel Ball, BOTAR, Alpha Kappa Alpha Ball, Junior League Cotillion and Harvest Ball (which also honors young men.)
Quinceaneras are the Hispanic version of such a right of passage. At Nolte’s Bridal, we have had the privilege of dressing either debs or guests at all of the above for many years.
Still when the invitation came, I felt both surprised and honored.
Do I think it’s out- dated, snobbish or elitist? Not in the least. Any opportunity that encourages young women to gain polish, poise and presentation skills, will help them in future employment or leadership roles as women. In a society that seems to go for “comfort first and appearance last,” it’s a pleasure to see their confidence when they know they look, not just appropriate for the setting, but glowing because of the excitement associated with this starring role.
Doesn’t every sports celebrity, Oscar nominee, political candidate get that same opportunity? This is no different.
Sixty-five years ago, Belles of the American Royal, (BOTAR) was founded to support this shining example for which Kansas City is known throughout the country: the American Royal Livestock, Horse Show, Parade and Rodeo. (The barbecue contest came later.) In that year, 1949, twelve young women were presented. This year there were twenty six.
(Sidebar: If you Google Debutante Balls, you will see most girls carrying nosegays but at BOTAR the tradition is to carry luxurious ostrich feather fans. These fans were an integral part of the professionally choreographed nine minute waltz. The Great-Granddaughter of the lady who suggested the fans was presented right ahead of us this year and it was fun to hear that back story while were waiting back stage.)
The participation included two months of helping as Governors of the Royal with school tours, waltz rehearsals, private parties and large group activities in which these girls, and their assigned escorts, became acquainted with the alumnae who have carried this torch so well. (It is an astonishing number of dedicated people!)
As my readers know, I seldom include references to my personal and private family life in the store’s social media, but today is an exception.
I am proud to share some images (taken by Amy Bucher) at the Ball so beautifully chaired by Jenny Turner Tuttle. As an event planner myself, the word “astonishing” comes to mind to describe the ambiance she created. The contemporary vibe black and white gowns were made by Mary Neddo.
In the pictures included here you will see our formal portrait, the actual bow and me walking Justine out to her escort, Nick Gard, who respectfully then bowed to me, before I relinquished her to his arm for the waltz.
It was all a magical and happy night for this proud father. MJN