This was one of my most-anticipated titles of the year. Social history is a favorite of mine and this promised all the stuff I love: beautiful clothing, handsome men, lovely ladies, manners, and more.
When we hear the word “Debutante” often we think of girls like Kathleen and Rosemary Kennedy being presented “at the Court of St. James”–i.e. to the British monarch. This event signaled their arrival at the upper-class “Tinder” of the day–the marriage market for the upper-classes. While we will hear about some British debs and their rituals and personalities, here at home, the United States also has a fairly rich debutante history of our own. Author Kristen Richardson explores the history, quirks, rules, and events in each of America’s celebrated debutante “markets,” as well as that at Buckingham Palace.
Obviously, New York tops the list–it is here that First Daughter Alice Roosevelt and her first cousin future First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt made their debuts. The Old South is another great deb area, as is Newport, Rhode Island where another future First Lady, Jacqueline Bouvier made her debut.
The marriage market aspect of the story included discussion of the “Dollar Duchesses.” like the fictional Cora Levison who marries Robert, Viscount Crawley and saves Downton Abbey. Her real-life sisters, their often scheming, social-climbing mothers are in here, don’t worry. The story of their Bright Young Thing daughters is given a nice outing, too.
African American debutantes get a nice write-up here too with their sororities such as the mighty and powerful A.K.A.–letters after a name that are nearly as formidable in the United States–especially for businesswomen, as K.G. is in the United Kingdom
This was a slower-reading book than I anticipated. It is well-researched and is an excellent addition to my personal social history collection.
The Season by Kristen Richardson
The OTHER Season
Sophie Campbell’s breezy, fun look at the modern London “Season,” and all of its iconic events was a lot of fun to read. Handsome men who spend their days in the Army or the City, girls who make a full-time job into a part-time one so they can attend all these events (think a young Sarah Ferguson who exasperated her boss with her social life), the parents paying for it all–it’s a delight. She throws in a reasonable amount of history, but it’s the level you would enjoy with a Pimms, Champers or a strong G/T. Put on your Sloaney clothes and dive right in. Rupert, Henry, Caroline, and Sohpie will let you join in their party.
The Season: A Summer Whirl Through The English Social Season by Sophie Campbell
Other Debutante Books I’ve Enjoyed
1939: The Last Season tells of the Season of 1939 and the generation who would make their mark in World War II. Very interesting.
Debs at War was a fascinating look at how these often vapid, party-hearty young women found purpose and developed into the formidable women we know today as the Queen’s Generation–the Greatest Generation. Very readable.
The Last Debutante winds up the whole rigamarole of being presented to the Queen. As Princess Margaret supposedly said, “we had to end it–every tart in London was getting in,” [paraphrased]. By then there was an entire industry of selling access, teaching manners, etc. So, while Camilla Shand, now Duchess of Cornwall, came out in the late 60s her mother was likely still clutching her pearls (but thanking God for the savings of money) that she was not actually “Presented”–merely “Launched” into society.
Debutantes and the London Season is part of the outstanding Shire History Series–I’ve been collecting these for several years now. While it looks like a fairly normal schoolish history book, it’s very, very interesting–as are all the titles in the series. I purchased this twice. First I bought it on Kindle but soon regretted that (no, I did not return it–I think that’s wrong if there is nothing wrong with the book). The photos are so wonderful and the Kindle is awful for photos. I recommend any of the titles in this series.
Includes “Debo” Mitford who became Duchess of Devonshire, among others.