“The tradition of the debutante is not a twentieth-century phenomenon in the West,” David Patrick Columbia, founder of New York Social Diary, writes in the introduction to Diana Oswald’s new book, Debutantes: When Glamour Was Born. “It was a rite of passage, a ritual with a specific and practical use — finding husbands — and it had a lot riding on it. Those who didn’t succeed often became governesses or nuns. Or spinsters.” With these delightful opening words and a forward by Oscar de la Renta, Debutantes peels back the curtains on the countless coming out parties, cotillions, high teas, banquets, balls, and summer soirées attended en masse by high society’s young ladies clad in white gowns.
The book, published by Rizzoli, will hit shelves today and is stuffed with over 150 stunning photographs from personal archives, taken by insiders like Cecil Beaton, Bill Cunningham, and Toni Frissell. In addition to including the preparations these women needed to accomplish before an event (there’s a snapshot of students at Muriel Simmons School of Dancing in London perfecting the “debutante bow”), there are plenty of famous faces that pop up in the book — from “celebutante” Jacqueline Lee Bouvier dancing away at a party in Rhode Island to Andy Warhol escorting his friend Francine LeFrak to her coming-out party at Arthur’s Discotheque. A special section in the book is even devoted to the intricate voluminous white dresses that designers like Chanel, Vionnet, Dior, and Schiaparelli designed for the opulent rite of passage. Pull on some white satin gloves and click on the slideshow to transport yourself back in time in this sneak peek of the book.