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The Season: A Social History of the Debutante

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The world of debutantes opens into a revealing story of women across six centuries, their limited options, and their desires. Digging into the roots of the debutante ritual, with its ballrooms and white dresses, Kristen Richardson—herself descended from a line of debutantes—was fascinated to discover that the debutante ritual places our contemporary ideas about women and The world of debutantes opens into a revealing story of women across six centuries, their limited options, and their desires. Digging into the roots of the debutante ritual, with its ballrooms and white dresses, Kristen Richardson—herself descended from a line of debutantes—was fascinated to discover that the debutante ritual places our contemporary ideas about women and marriage in a new light. In this brilliant history of the phenomenon, Richardson shares debutantes’ own words—from diaries, letters, and interviews—throughout her vivid telling, beginning in Henry VIII’s era, sweeping through Queen Elizabeth I’s court, crossing back and forth the Atlantic to colonial Philadelphia, African American communities, Jane Austen’s England, and Mrs. Astor’s parties, ultimately arriving at the contemporary New York Infirmary and International balls. Whether maligned for its archaic attitude and objectification of women or praised for raising money for charities and providing a necessary coming-of-age ritual, the debutante tradition has more to tell us in this entertaining and illuminating book.


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The world of debutantes opens into a revealing story of women across six centuries, their limited options, and their desires. Digging into the roots of the debutante ritual, with its ballrooms and white dresses, Kristen Richardson—herself descended from a line of debutantes—was fascinated to discover that the debutante ritual places our contemporary ideas about women and The world of debutantes opens into a revealing story of women across six centuries, their limited options, and their desires. Digging into the roots of the debutante ritual, with its ballrooms and white dresses, Kristen Richardson—herself descended from a line of debutantes—was fascinated to discover that the debutante ritual places our contemporary ideas about women and marriage in a new light. In this brilliant history of the phenomenon, Richardson shares debutantes’ own words—from diaries, letters, and interviews—throughout her vivid telling, beginning in Henry VIII’s era, sweeping through Queen Elizabeth I’s court, crossing back and forth the Atlantic to colonial Philadelphia, African American communities, Jane Austen’s England, and Mrs. Astor’s parties, ultimately arriving at the contemporary New York Infirmary and International balls. Whether maligned for its archaic attitude and objectification of women or praised for raising money for charities and providing a necessary coming-of-age ritual, the debutante tradition has more to tell us in this entertaining and illuminating book.

53 review for The Season: A Social History of the Debutante

  1. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    I was pleasantly surprised at how much more than describing the rites of debutantes this book speaks to. Within the framework of describing the debutante phenomenon, the author meshes it with changing social norms and growing internationalism. A few debs are highlighted to give the reader an understanding of both Deb and post Deb years. I found this book very engaging and I would recommend it to women’s studies courses. It’s a delightful way to read social history while becoming cognizant of I was pleasantly surprised at how much more than describing the rites of debutantes this book speaks to. Within the framework of describing the debutante phenomenon, the author meshes it with changing social norms and growing internationalism. A few debs are highlighted to give the reader an understanding of both Deb and post Deb years. I found this book very engaging and I would recommend it to women’s studies courses. It’s a delightful way to read social history while becoming cognizant of globalization and it’s effects on traditions, here in America, as well as England, China and France. Thank you Netgalley, for an informative and enjoyable read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Caidyn (SEMI-HIATUS; BW Reviews; he/him/his)

    Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review! I find social histories fascinating. I thought that Richardson did a lot of research, starting even before Elizabeth I and moving through to now. That's amazing and she condensed all she learned into a book that will be around 300 pages. Like, wow. For me, I got a bit glazed after a while, but it's still interesting. I could see myself revisiting this at some point in the future! One thing, though. One part in the book, she talked Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review! I find social histories fascinating. I thought that Richardson did a lot of research, starting even before Elizabeth I and moving through to now. That's amazing and she condensed all she learned into a book that will be around 300 pages. Like, wow. For me, I got a bit glazed after a while, but it's still interesting. I could see myself revisiting this at some point in the future! One thing, though. One part in the book, she talked about George V and said that he had a stutter and his brother abdicated. Wrong King George. That was George V's son, George VI who had all that. So, something I caught that was wrong historically. Hope that gets caught and fixed for the final copy!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    **Disclaimer** I won this ARC from a Goodreads giveaway. This doesn't chance my review, but I thought I should mention it. I wasn't required to write this review, it just seemed polite to do so after getting a free book. An interesting and relatively quick read about a bit of history I hadn't though much about before My only complaints are really the lack of pictures and minimal period quotes/description. After all the mention of journals and letters in the introduction I found myself wanting to **Disclaimer** I won this ARC from a Goodreads giveaway. This doesn't chance my review, but I thought I should mention it. I wasn't required to write this review, it just seemed polite to do so after getting a free book. An interesting and relatively quick read about a bit of history I hadn't though much about before My only complaints are really the lack of pictures and minimal period quotes/description. After all the mention of journals and letters in the introduction I found myself wanting to hear more from the young women the book is chronicling. Also, how can a book with so many descriptions of gowns and balls not have even one picture of a dressed up debutante?

  4. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    This was absolutely fascinating start to finish. The author has a well-supported, nuanced thesis that demonstrates the importance of diversity and family and cultural change while engaging with economics, literature, and politics over time. Richardson compared my guy Ward McAllister to Martha Stewart (!!), taught me about 18th century women's shoes not having a distinct right/left foot, explored the modern and commercial notion of the "celebutante," and taught me about the Texas Dip (I looked it This was absolutely fascinating start to finish. The author has a well-supported, nuanced thesis that demonstrates the importance of diversity and family and cultural change while engaging with economics, literature, and politics over time. Richardson compared my guy Ward McAllister to Martha Stewart (!!), taught me about 18th century women's shoes not having a distinct right/left foot, explored the modern and commercial notion of the "celebutante," and taught me about the Texas Dip (I looked it up on YouTube when I finished and I just--). I think it is fascinating how the ritual has certainly come a long way from being a marriage market, emphasizing today (with mixed results) ideas like career success, networking, etc., but I think Richardson draws the right conclusion when she says the debutante ritual retains its male-dominated principles. This book reminded me why I adore social histories. And women's history. I loved it so much!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    This was a fascinating history of Debutante traditions that is actually a social history of class, gender, and race. The tradition started in Great Britain after the nunneries closed up and people had to figure out what to do with their unmarriagable daughters. Fathers got the legislature to grant them veto power over their daughters' marriages so that they would not lower the family's class. In America, the Debutante ball was a class marker and it varied between north and south, black and This was a fascinating history of Debutante traditions that is actually a social history of class, gender, and race. The tradition started in Great Britain after the nunneries closed up and people had to figure out what to do with their unmarriagable daughters. Fathers got the legislature to grant them veto power over their daughters' marriages so that they would not lower the family's class. In America, the Debutante ball was a class marker and it varied between north and south, black and white, new money and old.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Thank you to NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review! We are seeing a resurgence in women's history, and finally are exploring topics long deemed frivolous. Kristen Richardson's history of the debutante is clever look at a social construction that dominated the lives of upper- and middle-class women for over 200 years. It played a crucial role in social connections and marriage prospects for these women, and could quickly change the trajectory of their lives. It could Thank you to NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review! We are seeing a resurgence in women's history, and finally are exploring topics long deemed frivolous. Kristen Richardson's history of the debutante is clever look at a social construction that dominated the lives of upper- and middle-class women for over 200 years. It played a crucial role in social connections and marriage prospects for these women, and could quickly change the trajectory of their lives. It could also hugely change life for their families (both birth family and married). Richardson ties the practice of debuting to larger social practices, and does a fantastic job of explaining the social impact on all parties, not just the young women in question. It did feel slightly jumpy, though. I perhaps would have stuck to one geographic region in a paragraph- the US is obviously a large country and jumping from New York in one sentence to the Carolinas in the next is a little harder to follow. However, it is still absolutely a great read!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    As a transport to the South, I am fascinated by traditions that I only ever saw in movies or read about in books. One of those traditions is being presented to society as a debutante. It turns out that this tradition is much more wide spread than just the American South, having its roots on different continents for centuries. I was not sure what to expect when I started this book, but it is basically anything and everything you could ever possibly want to know about the development and spread of As a transport to the South, I am fascinated by traditions that I only ever saw in movies or read about in books. One of those traditions is being presented to society as a debutante. It turns out that this tradition is much more wide spread than just the American South, having its roots on different continents for centuries. I was not sure what to expect when I started this book, but it is basically anything and everything you could ever possibly want to know about the development and spread of this tradition. There are several time periods discussed in the book, which can get a bit dry. Overall, it is an interesting read if you are actively looking for a book about debutantes. Otherwise I might suggest some fiction about the behind the scenes of entering civilized society.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kennedy

    This is a social history about debutantes and covers a wide variety of types of balls: historic British ones, African-American ones, ones in China, etc. I always enjoy reading British history and found the section on debutante balls around the world very interesting. I never got into a real groove with it, but did enjoy it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

  10. 5 out of 5

    Doris Moore

  11. 5 out of 5

    Raquel

  12. 5 out of 5

    Airyelle

  13. 4 out of 5

    Myra

  14. 4 out of 5

    Carol

  15. 4 out of 5

    Erin Dexter

  16. 4 out of 5

    branita

  17. 5 out of 5

    Linda

  18. 5 out of 5

    Marie Hunter

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alex

  20. 5 out of 5

    Linda

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nora

  22. 4 out of 5

    Pamela Schuer

  23. 5 out of 5

    Maire

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Waters

  25. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  26. 4 out of 5

    Theresa

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa

  30. 5 out of 5

    Hannah L

  31. 5 out of 5

    LYNDSEY S.

  32. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

  33. 5 out of 5

    BMR, LCSW

  34. 4 out of 5

    Connie Fischer

  35. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  36. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Peck

  37. 4 out of 5

    Jaime Arkin

  38. 5 out of 5

    Holly

  39. 5 out of 5

    Christy

  40. 4 out of 5

    Berry Payne

  41. 4 out of 5

    Taryn

  42. 5 out of 5

    Susan Meissner

  43. 5 out of 5

    Aubree Goodlad

  44. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Presley

  45. 4 out of 5

    Diane Seitz

  46. 5 out of 5

    Heather C

  47. 5 out of 5

    Marianne

  48. 4 out of 5

    Patty Brehm

  49. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  50. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  51. 5 out of 5

    Michele

  52. 5 out of 5

    Lane

  53. 4 out of 5

    Emily Joy

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