Friday, June 20, 2014

Debutante Dresses

7:45 PM

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Debut season is around the corner, and adolescent Filipinas are about to transition from being a girl to a woman in just one night – but where did this all start? The tradition of having a ‘debut’ or lavish coming-of-age party for women isn’t something new or local—it’s been long passed down from the generations of women before us and is practiced in different ways in other parts of the world.

In the Philippines, debuts are more of extraordinary parties rather than traditional balls. Despite the differences with other debuts around the world, they all share arguably one of the most important components of a young woman’s debut: her dress.

A girl’s debut dress isn’t only a symbol of her confidently transitioning into womanhood, but also a reflection of her true self. Debutantes either buy or have their debutante gowns or dresses custom-made, but at the end of the day, her dress is almost as perfect as it is in her head, whether it be a short, baby pink sweetheart neckline with a fluffy chiffon skirt and minimal beading, or an elegant black dress that reaches to the floor and fits her body nicely. A debutante’s dress is almost like her statement to the world: “I’m a woman! Take me as I am!”

Many women have come and gone with their own dream dresses for their coming-of-age parties. Depending on the era, the area, or both - their dresses followed a ‘distinct style’ as the tradition was passed down through generations. In this article, we’ll be exploring five types of dresses—all five are foreign, with one vintage dress from Victorian England, two vintage dresses from the USA, one from South America and the last from Europe . Let’s get to it!

1. The Ball Gown  - Victorian era

The Victorian era’s notable improvement in England’s economy paved the way for the era’s ostentatious fashion. More money meant that they could buy more cloth in different styles and textures as well. The death of Queen Victoria’s husband, however, indirectly influenced the fashion in this age. The Queen’s endless state of mourning started a trend in dresses that looked like they were designed for funerals. Fashion for women was also very constricting: women’s dresses were getting tighter with corsets and almost six layers of clothing from the undergarments to the jacket.

The use of the word ‘debutante’ emerged even as early as the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in England, with the purpose of having young eligible women establish their presence in court, with the tradition following into the 19th century when Queen Victoria turned this custom into traditional balls, where young women wore dresses of white and practiced the ‘curtsey,’ as customs followed.

In this picture, we have a debutante from the early Victorian high society adding last minute touches to her hair while her handmaidens stand watch. Notice how her gown is a pale or drab color and her skirt is adorned with flowers. Its shape is of a traditional ball gown as she is preparing for a debutante ball, after all. Note her low-cut neckline and off-shoulder sleeves of lace, while her skirt looks to be made of silk on the outside and is enlarged with layers and layers of petticoats. The dress perfectly complements her hairstyle, a very popular one in this period at that, which is put up to emphasize the style of her sleeves and deep neckline. (Fun fact: Low necklines were a must during this era! They were called a bertha neckline.)

Wearing something similar to this style is the perfect choice if you want to feel royal and regal on your special night. Take note: if you find that this style looks too much like a wedding dress, you may also substitute white with other pale colors! As tradition dictates, only married women were allowed to wear black or bright colors.

2. The Flapper the 1920s

The English also brought the tradition to the United States during their reign as colonizers; however, debutante balls practiced in America were more of status symbols than rites of passage.

The ‘flapper’ was the ‘it girl’ of the USA in the twenties. She was usually seen ‘making the most of her life’ by smoking, drinking, or going to parties and dancing. This attitude towards life was the result of having a lack of suitors for marriage in their generation because of war. Instead of sitting around and waiting for their lives to begin, the flappers of the 1920s decided to live life to the fullest.

Flapper clothing was usually short and light so that the woman wearing the dress would have been able to move better. The flapper also binded her chest to achieve a boy-like look.

This is a type of flapper dress– albeit less bold with sheer butterfly sleeves and a layer of lace on top of a silk skirt. Like the Victorian ball gown, the dress also has floral elements, except it is only adorned with one flower at the side while the remaining flowers are embedded in the transparent material of her skirt. As for her shoes, they are pointed and made of silk with little to no heels, contrary to the trend of heels that exceed two inches.
However lovely and demure this dress, I personally do not recommend this if you want to make a bold statement. This dress has very gentle features and is highly recommended if you want to achieve a soft or boyish look during your debut. You can switch this up anyway you want to by eliminating or modifying the sleeves or shortening the skirt. There are bolder flapper style dresses with feather boas and hair accessories if you are set on having one inspired by the era.

3.  The Curvy the 1950s
In the 1950s, the iconic supermodel Marilyn Monroe inspired the ideal woman of the decade. Her curvy size 14 figure was coveted by many girls who wanted to have her busty figure and long legs. The clothes in this era catered to the image that Monroe inspired, making ‘special clothing’ for girls sizes 10 to 16. While thin wasn’t in, obesity was detested as well. Girls with such problems tried to ‘slender’ themselves and the use of sashes, scarves, or belts were very popular to achieve an artificial small waistline.

The trend of voluptuous women is very unmistakable in this photo, with the form-fitting boning in these ladies’ dresses. Unlike the two previous examples, the dresses started to pick up on bolder colors, styles, and fabrics. There is more emphasis on the natural curves and the breast area by enlarging the skirts and making the upper portions of the dress smaller or tighter. The long white gloves add an element of elegance - for without it, some of the dresses would look as if they were made for prom and not for a debut.

Recommended for those girls who love to show off their curves! If you want to go for a less conservative look, try a dress with a tube or sweetheart neckline as these emphasize your chest area – and for the opposite, a portrait cut may be better.

4. Quinceañera Latin America

Parallel to a debutante ball, South American culture practices the quinceanera, which is celebrated when a young woman turns fifteen instead of eighteen and is presented with the choice to enter into a convent or marriage.

Usually, quinceañera dresses such as this have very big skirts with layers of chiffon and petticoats. Similar to the style during the 50s, boning is included in the dress and is more often than not beaded with floral designs or other patterns

I highly suggest this if you want to achieve a princess look without losing vibrancy from color. There is no specific color palette that must be followed for quinceañera-type dresses, as any color goes as long as the skirt is big and grand.

Tip: Don’t use too many accessories with this look! With a dress as beaded as this, there is no need for a lot of shimmer and shine. A small necklace, stud earrings and a tiara would go perfectly.

5. Bal des Debutantes France

In 2013, Kyra Kennedy, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, made her debut in la Bal des Debutantes in Paris, France wearing this simple baby blue and black dress. This column dress has a tube or sleeveless cut and was paired with a pair of black stockings and pointed shoes of the same shade of blue. Ms. Kennedy accessorized with a few simple blue pearl necklaces and dangling blue earrings.

A very simple look! The dress gives a lot of free movement for dancing and moving around and is perfect for a less conservative and lively debut. You can always forego the stockings and make the dress shorter if you’d like it to look less formal.

After a trip around the world and back in time, hopefully you’ve found some inspiration for your debut dress. Whether you’ve chosen a simple yet elegant Parisian style or a fantasy-like princess gown from the Victorian era, remember that anything goes as long as you feel beautiful and confident! Your debut night is yours for the taking, so make your statement with the perfect dress!
Article by Anto
Art by Mika

Photo sources in chronological order:
Anto Joson is a fashion enthusiast, stage actress and a rookie ‘hallyu wave’ blogger. She attributes much of her sense of style to Korean and London street fashion. Expect more of her from The Thing and her upcoming blog,!

An avid dreamer, Mika Manikan is a fairly eccentric girl with a penchant for the poignant, who spends her days either contemplating the infinite wonders of the great beyond or what to eat for dinner. A professional shower-singer, she lives in the world of her headphones and watercolor, all while her heart does the foxtrot among the stars. If she were a fruit, she would most probably be a banana.


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