So You Want to Be a Deb

The famed business of The Debutante has become for many symbolic of the uppermost social rung. Debdom history began in Dallas in 1884 with the founding of the all-male Idlewild Club comprised of youngish social, civic, and business leaders. It still is premier: only Idlewild can extend the invitation for a girl to bow in generally Anglo, white Dallas society.

In sponsoring the debut the idea was to introduce a bit of tradition into the city, and a modicum of elegance with a smart dash of fun. It also proved to furnish a pleasant path for perpetuating a certain social structure via intermarriage among those of similar economic backgrounds. The idea was a solid success, as witness the fact that this year the venerable Idlewild Club presents its debs – 11 of them, bringing it to a grand total of 702 presentees since 1884.

Dallas’ social season will officially open the night of Idlewild, October 30, and will officially conclude with the debs’ final bow at Terpsichorean Ball the last Saturday of January. This does not mean Dallas parties grind to a halt at that point, but it does mean the spotlight will shift from the debs to other subjects.

Even the most modest debut requires a respectable cash outlay – and modest has never been the key word for any such endeavor. A debut in the distant past has been accomplished for as little as $20,000; today it starts nearer $30,000 and has ranged far in excess of that amount. The most important basic requisites for making an Idlewild debut are:

Financial – As noted, a debut is expensive, and while every debutante is not expected to (and won’t) spend the same amount on her season, Daddy had still better be in very healthy financial condition. Wardrobe expenditures include presentation gowns, coiffures, flowers, jewels, etc. – for mother and sisters, if any, as well as the honoree. Each deb is given her own personal ball, and this is the major expense.

Pedigree – It is desirable, if not absolutely necessary, that a debutante have a mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, cousin, or some relative who has made a bow at Idlewild or at another acceptable social event such as the San Antonio Fiesta or Tyler Rose Festival. The right schools, friends, fashions, hobbies, and sororities should be there. Being attractive is also helpful. A fat debutante simply will not have much fun. It is also nice to have prominent male civic and/or business stars on the family roster.

Since the world loves a winner, none of this activity will tarnish Daddy’s $ucce$$ image, either. How serious can all this debutante business be? Economically, very serious indeed. Overall, in an inflationary 1976 season with 11 debuts, the parties, teas, balls, luncheons, brunches that will be given for them and by them will generate as much as $2.5 million in the Dallas economy.

Meanwhile, the deb’s mother had better be in top physical condition since the rigors of a debut season involve mothers even more than the honorees – many of whom are attending college. Mother is expected to be at all the parties, even if daughter can’t make it. Thus, in a sense, mother makes a debut, too, for maybe the second time or more!

A season of prominence, however brief, carries with it certain intensive demands and awakens certain instincts. It has been known to provide debutantes with the impetus to become attentive community contributors. They often begin to feel responsible, and it rarely wears off.

On the minus side? For one thing, there is exposure to constant drinking on the young side – and with some it becomes a problem. Also, the girls are satiated with parties, and as one Dallas deb of a few seasons ago observes, “We used to say among ourselves sometimes that it was a shame but we just couldn’t care about going to another party no matter how beautiful.”

Another post-deb said, “Being youthful both in years and attitudes at this time, a girl can get the idea that this is the way all of life is at all times . . .and that she deserves it. Finding out differently can be a shock.”

But for most, the debut is a memoryof a time in life that was especiallysweet, exciting, and rather innocent.Thenceforward, debutantes lead livesthat would not generally providebestseller material. But for every debthere remains the unerasableremembrance that she was once a Star. . . and that’s fun to know no matterwhat happens in life.


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