Debutantes: When Glamour Was Born

A Celebration of Fashion, Parties, and Timeless Beauty
by Diana Oswald, David Patrick Columbia


When the golden age of high fashion and high society converged, and glamour was born. A debutante’s dress is anything but a minor detail, and this sumptuous volume delights in one stunning look after another: lace bodices and silver sequins by Chanel; Vionnet’s luxurious silk brocades; the signature white satin gloves and ubiquitous feathers of the ’30s; fluid frocks by Schiaparelli; the heiress-worthy designs of Claire McCardell and Valentina, especially popular with the ladies of the Whitney and Vanderbilt families; tulle and chiffon gowns by Dior and Mainbocher; sleek, one-shoulder styles by Norman Norell; and the one-of-a-kind, custom-made gowns donned by countless celebutantes, such as Jackie Kennedy and Brenda Frazier (whose custom frock earned her the cover of Life magazine). Debutantes celebrates the timeless tradition with gorgeous photography from high-society and fashion documenters such as Cecil Beaton, Toni Frissell, and Slim Aarons as well as never-before-published pictures culled from personal collections. Traversing winter cotillions at the Waldorf, summer coming-out soirees in Newport, and bourgeois banquets in Paris, Debutantes marries high fashion and society with an eternal allure to be coveted by all ages.



Dressed to kill: Debutantes signature long white gloves and flowing dresses are an irreplaceable part of the social tradition.

“The word ‘debutante,’ aside from its social intimations, is, and always was, an opportunity,” writes David Patrick Columbia in the introduction of Diane Oswald’s new book, Debutantes: When Glamour was Born. “But now it is for the experience of meeting people, of going out into the world, of gathering… What has changed is the world — changed to suit the debutante, the young woman of tomorrow.” The visually rich coffee table book (published by Rizzoli this month) provides insight into society’s ultimate “right of passage” — the Debutante Ball — particularly as it merged with high fashion in the twentieth century. Debutantes were expected to “come out” to society through a glamourous and luxurious party, signifying that they were ready to be married. Although “coming out” ceremonies have been traced back to as early as Cleopatra XIII, it was not until the Twentieth century that fashion — particularly, the dress — became a vital component. Featuring a foreward by Oscar de la Renta on his first-hand debutante experience and the evolution of the “idea.” As de la Renta writes, “To ‘debut’ [in 1956] meant that a young woman was eligible to marry; the purpose of her coming out was to present her to young men and their families. Today women are much more in control of their destinies. They know that their femininity is a tremendous asset. The modern debutante is more concerned with the perfect dress than the perfect suitor.” In these luxurious pages, Oswald investigates the rise of debutante culture, the creation of the “celebutante,” and the fascination of high fashion with high society. ( Lori-Lee Emshey)



Debutantes: When Glamour was Born, published by Rizzoli, is available October 2013.
Dance all night: Dancing is also part of the debutante ball equation

Debutante balls were once considered de rigueur among the world’s highly-articulated wealthy, with social junctions being staged across the United States and abroad. Despite society’s onetime reliance on the tradition, debutante balls have since been whittled down in number to just a few, choice annual events. The most noteworthy is the famous Bal de Crillon, held at Paris’s Hotel de Crillon. It’s there that teenage society girls, hailing from a small group of chosen families (whose population is equal parts old money and new), make their debut on the arm of a handsome peer.



Debutantes: When Glamour was Born, published by Rizzoli,  October 2013.
In line: Debutante balls were often considered the best way for proper girls to find a fiance, as displayed above where Alexandra Cutchins’s father presents her at the 1961 Pendennis Club Bachelor’s Ball in Louisville, Kentucky.



Above, debutante Victoria Leiter prepares for her 1968 tea dance in Washington D.C.

More recently, debutantes have served as artistic focal points to society photographers like Horst P. Horst and Slim Aarons, both of whom have work featured in Rizzoli’s new tome.
Modern debutantes, writes de la Renta, ‘are much more in control of their destinies,’ compared to the fates of their historical predecessors. ‘They know their femininity is a tremendous asset,’ he elaborated of the tradition’s changes.



Large affair: Rizzoli’s new book details the grandest of society balls, like the event pictured above, held in 1963 at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria.




Debutantes: When Glamour Was Born.
A Celebration of Fashion, Parties, and Timeless Beauty (Hardback)
by Diana Oswald, David Patrick Columbia

Product Details
Hardcover: 158 pages
Publisher: Rizzoli (October 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0847837874
ISBN-13: 978-0847837878

About the Author:
Diana Oswald has spent over two decades working with publications such as Marie Claire, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Elle, and Domino. World-renowned fashion designer Oscar de la Renta launched his eponymous ready-to-wear line in 1965. Today, the house produces a bridal collection, fragrances, home décor, childrenswear, and accessories, in addition to its signature ready-to-wear. David Patrick Columbia is the founder and editor of New York Social Diary.




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