Wednesday, August 5, 2009

the last debutantes

many of the debs wore couture- the black and blue gowns christian dior gowns were worn by margaret mckay and her mother at margaret's coming out dance, and the brown and cream tulle gown is by balmain, worn by elizabeth hyde parker at london dances.
images via kensington palace

i have a strange fascination with old-school debutantes. i can trace it to a mixed bag of early influences: the photos of my mum looking pained at her suburban sydney coming out in the 1960s (with an escort that looked like elvis); the glamorous social pictures taken at the crillon ball, and repeated viewings of 'andy hardy meets debutante'. it's logical that i should be interested in the phenomenon, combining as it does my fascinations for rich people, vintage dresses and upper class frippery.

obviously the original premise of a debutante ball pretty is pretty odd to a modern sensibility: parading young women in front of an audience to announce their readiness for marriage? it's certainly an anachronistic tradition; but the dresses, the parties, the manners and the excitement all set my heart a-flutter nonetheless.

so naturally whilst in london recently, i was very keen to catch 'the last debutantes' exhibition at kensington palace (on display until 31st jan 2010). the exhibition focuses on the 1958 crop of debs- the last year that eligible young ladies were presented to the queen. although the exhibition space (the late princess margaret's apartments) is something of a confusing rabbit warren, the exhibition features a lovely collection of objects, including diaries, invitations, photographs, dresses, evening bags and other ephemera saved by the girls. it sets the glamour, charm and indulgence of this disappearing world against the backdrop of the social unrest, political activism and teenage culture that set the scene of change in britain during the summer of 1958.

i must admit i thoroughly enjoyed it. if i squint my eyes to see past the snobbery, sexism and excess of the debutante's world, there is really something quite lovely about it.

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