10 vintage photos show the bizarre world of debutantes during the Vanderbilt and Rockefeller era

source
Debutantes: When Glamour was Born/Rizzoli

The traditions surrounding the “debutante” – a woman of age who is ready to marry – date back to ancient, tribal times. However, the ceremony involving gorgeous gowns, cotillion dances, and lavish parties didn’t begin until the Victorian era.

Traditionally a matchmaking process, the “coming out” party changed in the 1930s with Miss. Barbara Woolworth Hutton’s – who set a new precedent for the events. The lavish ordeal held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York hosted guests such as the Vanderbilts, Whitneys, Astors, and Rockefellers. The flowers alone cost $50,000.

For the next 25 years, debutante parties entered their final, modern golden age. The book “Debutantes: When Glamour was Born” explores the history of these events – including the changing fashions and traditions. Ahead, 10 images from the book that looks at the debutantes final golden years.


Debutante balls were not only developed to find a suitor for a daughter, but also a way for the family to demonstrate social status within a community, wealth, and family lineage.

caption
Miss Audrey Clinton sits underneath a portrait of her great-great grandmother, before making her debut at the esteemed Junior Assemblies in New York in 1951.
source
Debutantes: When Glamour was Born/Rizzoli

Source: ACR


In the late ’40s and early ’50s men began coming back from the war. Debutante’s parties were back on the rise, now with a new generation of women hosting.

caption
A party hosted in Newport, Rhode Island, 1957.
source
Debutantes: When Glamour was Born/Rizzoli

Traditionally, girls are escorted by their mothers into the events. Here, debutante Nicole du Pont at her dinner dance in Wilmington, Delaware in 1959.

source
Debutantes: When Glamour was Born/Rizzoli

The 1953 book “The Glitter and the Gold” written by famous debutante Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, explored the stressful and exhausting world of debutante life leading up to the event. Here, Mary Henderson takes a curtsey at her coming out party in Boston, 1959.

source
Debutantes: When Glamour was Born/Rizzoli

In the ’40s through the ’50s, news publications such as Life, Newsweek, and Time covered various debutante balls.

caption
Linda Ryan greets guest Minnie Cushing at her coming out party, Newport, Rhode Island, 1961
source
Debutantes: When Glamour was Born/Rizzoli

Some parties extended long into the night — such as Linda Ryan’s, pictured below. A live band played Ryan’s party until 8 a.m. in the morning under the orders of her step-grandfather, George Widener.

caption
Newport, Rhode Island, 1961
source
Debutantes: When Glamour was Born/Rizzoli

Along with the perfect dress and shoes to match, women were also taught how to perform the perfect curtsy. Here, Mazie Cox takes a bow at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1963.

source
Debutantes: When Glamour was Born/Rizzoli

Mazie Cox poses for a picture in a dress which her mother designed for her for her ball.

source
Debutantes: When Glamour was Born/Rizzoli

Choreographed dances have been a strong tradition among debutante balls.

caption
Waldorf-Astoria, New York, 1963
source
Debutantes: When Glamour was Born/Rizzoli

There are a number of famous debutantes, including Jacqueline Lee Bouvier (who later became Jacqueline Lee Kennedy), and the daughter of then future President Nixon, Tricia Nixon.

caption
New York, 1964
source
Debutantes: When Glamour was Born/Rizzoli