What It Takes to Be a High-Society Debutante

They are the daughters of the upper-crust, well-connected before they reach college and born into some of the world's wealthiest families.

These young women from around the world, ranging in age from 16 to 25, are selected to be debutantes at the International Debutante Ball, held every two years in New York City, to formally present themselves to society. While in the past these balls were used to find potential suitors for the young women, they are now mainly used for networking.

Margaret Hedberg is the director and general chairman of the International Debutante Ball, which is held at the luxurious Waldorf Astoria hotel. Her aunt founded the ball 60 years ago, and it remains a high society tradition.

“Debutante Ball is a celebration of a lot of people getting together to celebrate their daughters’ sort of entrance into the adult world,” she said.

Hedberg is in charge of selecting the girls who will be chosen as debutantes. The process takes about a year, and Hedberg and her team receive recommendations from ball committee members, past debutantes and their families, as well as from committees of smaller debutante balls.

“How many girls you have and what places are being represented this year, it’s very arbitrary,” Hedberg said. “Some years it’s got a lot of Texans, some years a lot more Connecticut. It’s just the way it is.”

Once invited, the young women and their families spend tens of thousands of dollars to attend the ball. The entry fee alone is $17,000 for one table. They then have to pay for travel and their stay at the Waldorf -- Hedberg say the girls and their families stay for about a week to attend “warm-up” events, smaller parties for everyone to get to know each other. Each girl is also required to wear a white princess-style gown and long white satin gloves for the big night -- a deep-rooted tradition.

When asked why the girls have to wear white, Hedberg said, “back in the days of the robber barons and the Gilded Age, I think it was a very expensive thing... I think that the purity quality back in the old day was part of it.”

A month prior to the ball, the girls attend “bachelor brunch,” where they can mingle with an assortment of escorts, many of which are young men from Ivy League universities or military schools, to find one for the ball.

“If you don’t have a brother or cousin you want to take, I can put you together with a young man,” Hedberg said. “It’s a date, not a mate.”

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