During the Victorian Era, the dating scene was not like it is in modern times, especially among the rich families. Young women lived with their parents and did not socialize with males until they reached the age of marriage eligibility. At this point, the young woman became a debutante, which is French for "female beginner," and she would be presented to society as such through parties.
The purpose of a debutante's coming out party is to alert all of the eligible bachelors in the area that the young woman is available for marriage. The actual age at which a young woman qualifies to come out as a debutante varied during Victorian times, often based on her parent's ideas. Modern debutantes are usually 18. In Victorian times, the decision was sometimes based on the bachelors available for the upcoming season, in hopes of making a financially beneficial match. Modern coming out parties still exist in England and some areas of the United States, but debutantes have less pressure to marry the "right" man.
Because debutantes are often a part of the upper classes, they are expected to dress the part. Both in Victorian and modern times, debutantes often purchase a new wardrobe to wear during the debutante season. The dress worn to the coming out party and each of the events afterwards is often fancy, similar to that which would be worn for an event like a wedding. In Victorian times, it was important to have dresses suited for each type of event, including balls, dinner parties and general parties. Special visiting dresses were also part of the wardrobe.
A coming out party can be done through one of several different events. A ball is one of the most preferred methods, where young men and other young women come for dancing and light refreshments. An afternoon tea with music for dancing, a lunch event and a small, more intimate party can also be used to present a debutante. As long as society is alerted of the eligibility of the young lady who is coming out, the coming out party is a success.
One of the most important roles of a debutante at her coming out party is to greet the guests. At some coming out parties, guests first make their way along a receiving line. The debutante is at the end of the receiving line with her mother. As each guests reaches the end of the receiving line, the mother introduces her daughter to each guest. Some modern debutante coming out parties feature groups of debutantes at once. In these cases, the debutantes are typically brought up onto a stage and introduced individually to the group of guests.
Coming out parties often happen close together because there is a specific season for debutantes each year. The beginning of the debutante season is filled with young women, all eager to get out and meet the men of their dreams. If a debutante does not receive a proposal by the end of the season, she is free to come out again for the following season. In Victorian times, if a young woman was not engaged by the end of her third season, she was tagged as a failure. In modern times, there is less pressure to marry as soon as possible.
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