A film examining the debutante experience of 1939 through the eyes of a colourful collection of debs and debs' delights, including the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, the Duke of Wellington, and the Duchess of Northumberland. While Europe was steeling itself in the face of fascist aggression, the upper-class marriage market was in full swing, and here the participants talk vividly about the parties, ballgowns and broken hearts.
In the United Kingdom, the presentation of débutantes to the Sovereign at court marked the start of the British social season. Applications for young women to be presented at court were required to be made by ladies who themselves had been presented to the Sovereign; the young woman's mother, for example, or someone known to the family. A mother-in-law who herself had been presented might, for example, present her new daughter-in-law.
The presentation of debutantes at court was also a way for young girls of marriageable age to be presented to suitable bachelors and their families in the hopes of finding a suitable husband. Bachelors, in turn, used the court presentation as a chance to find a suitable wife. Those who wanted to be presented at court were required to apply for permission to do so; if the application was accepted, they would be sent a royal summons from the Lord Chamberlain to attend the Presentation on a certain day. According to Debrett's, the proceedings on that day always started at 10am. As well as débutantes, older women and married women who had not previously been presented could be presented at Court.
On the day of the court presentation the débutante and her sponsor would be announced, the debutante would curtsy to the Sovereign, and then she would leave without turning her back.
The court dress has traditionally been a white evening dress, but shades of ivory and pink were acceptable. The white dress featured short sleeves and white gloves, a veil attached to the hair with three white ostrich feathers, and a train, which the débutante would hold on her arm until she was ready to be presented. Débutantes would also wear pearls but many would also wear jewellery that belonged to the family.
After the débutantes were presented to the monarch, they would attend the social season. The season consisted of events such as afternoon tea parties, polo matches, races at Royal Ascot, and balls. Many débutantes would also have their own "coming-out party" or, alternatively, a party shared with a sister or other member of family.
The last débutantes were presented at Court in 1958 after Queen Elizabeth II abolished the ceremony. Attempts were made to keep the tradition going by organising a series of parties for young girls who might otherwise have been presented at Court in their first season (to which suitable young men were also invited) by Peter Townend. However, the withdrawal of royal patronage made these occasions increasingly insignificant, and scarcely distinguishable from any other part of the social season.
However, the expression "débutante" or "deb" for short continues to be used, especially in the press, to refer to young girls of marriageable age who participate in a semi-public upper class social scene. The expression "deb's delight" is applied to good looking unmarried young men from similar backgrounds.