A Debutante – the French word for “female beginner” – is typically a young woman from a wealthy or well-to-do family.
The debutante ball, or cotillion (a term used in some states in America), is the young lady’s formal presentation, or “debut”, to society.
The ritual of debutante balls was necessitated by the traditional upper-class practice of sending girls away to baording school. Here they were prohibited from dating, attending parties of mixed company, or socializing with adults.
The young womans presentation at the ball meant that she was now eligible for marriage, and the purpose of the ball was to display her to suitable bachelors and their families, with a view to courtship and marriage.
The modern view of debutante balls has changed considerably from its traditional purpose.
In Australia, the concept of a ‘deb’ ball is alive and well. It is considered something of a rite of passage for young women, and represents their coming of age.