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Debutantes: A Mobile Tradition

Junior vocal major Jamie Chow was presented into society in 2017. Photo courtesy of Jamie

Junior vocal major Jamie Chow was presented into society in 2017. Photo courtesy of Jamie Chow

Junior vocal major Jamie Chow was presented into society in 2017. Photo courtesy of Jamie Chow

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In this day and age of women’s liberation, the term debutante conjures images in the popular imagination of wealthy young women being presented on the marriage market. However, according to two University of South Alabama debutantes, Emma Brown and Janie Chow, the tradition of holding debutante balls is alive and well but has changed over the years.

Brown and Chow said the tradition of being a debutante has become more of a social networking event, as well as an opportunity to keep a link to the past.

Chow’s great-grandfather was the first mayor of Mardi Gras for the Mobile area African-American Mardi Gras Association after World War II. Chow said debuting the with same organization he was a part of, the Comrades was important to her and her family.

Brown’s family also has a long tradition of being involved with the debutante balls. Brown’s mother was also selected to be a debutante due to her family involvement in the Mobile community.

“My mom was so excited when I got invited,” Brown said. “She said ‘you’re gonna be a lady!’”

Both Brown and Chow agreed keeping the tradition of becoming a debutante is important for cultural and traditional significance.

Chow said it was important for her and that she was “honoring who I am becoming as a woman. It’s honoring all the achievements I’ve made so far and everything I hope to do.”

“It’s not just getting fancy and going to a ball; it’s representing a transition in your life where you are becoming a woman,” Chow said.

While the meaning of the ball is changing, some traditions remain the same. Brown said her organization had a dress code requiring her dress to be true white and modest and she was also required to wear the traditional white gloves.

Chow said choosing a dress for her ball was a long process. Chow and her mother sampled some dresses privately, then invited her godmother and her mother’s godmother to help in making the final choice.

Debutante escorts and presenters wear tuxedos with tails and white gloves, also. Presenters are typically the debutante’s father and walk her out during the debut. Escorts are chosen by the debutante, usually a boyfriend or close friend, who walk the debutante’s mother out.

Debutante balls face being misunderstood in the modern era.

“I don’t want to see it die because it’s a cool tradition, but I don’t want it to be misconstrued into something that’s backward,” Brown said.

How this tradition will change with the times remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: it will continue.

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Debutantes: A Mobile Tradition