300 Debutantes

Debutantes serve Caliphs of Cairo (2017)

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO

While it may be a remnant of a long-ago era, the debutante season in New Orleans still contributes much to the city’s traditions and economy.

Today’s elaborate coming-out circuit, with hundreds of events, started simply in the late 19th century when krewes chose a queen after she pulled the Golden Bean from a Twelfth Night cake. The Twelfth Night Revelers, founded in 1870, named its first queen this way in 1871 with Emma Butler. Rex had its first queen in 1873. Court maids were introduced a few years later. As other Carnival ball organizations formed, courts expanded to include court maids, pages, princesses and junior maids.

Today, while there is a symbiotic relationship with the Carnival krewes, modern debutantes, usually aged 18 to 22, are officially presented in June by one of the city’s seven debutante societies, each with its own selection criteria and ball. The season runs through Carnival, with of approximately 70 debutantes the focus of one or more parties during the season. Debutantes typically appear in more than one Carnival court.

Between their wardrobe and their parties, debutantes’ families often spend thousands, if not tens of thousands on their official debut to society — though some are more extravagant than others. In 2015 one debutante party flew in Maroon 5 for her party, while another brought in Ellie Goulding.