Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Debutante Balls

           In my hometown of Tampa, Florida, debutante balls are an integral part of a teenage girl's entrance into adulthood. While most cities have lost this old-fashioned tradition of "coming out" into society, this process is still very prevalent in the South. The tradition is very exclusive, however. Not all young women can become debutantes. In Tampa, only the daughters of Tampa Yacht and Country Club members can participate in the event. Unfortunately for most girls, the Tampa Yacht and Country Club is very exclusive- only a select number of families are invited to join each year and they must be recommended by existing members. Because of this, the debutante ball is viewed as a rare opportunity that only the most elite in society are able to participate in.
           Not only does the membership requirement limit the number of potential debutantes, but the financial requirements do as well. For example, to be a debutante, one must buy a white dress, similar to a wedding dress, earrings, high heels, and all other expected accessories needed to stand out in a room of beautiful women.
         These financial and social requirements create a symbolic boundary between Tampa's middle class and its social elite. Only the families with social connections, a large income, and a good reputation are invited to participate in this event and the families who lack in these aspects are left out on the sidelines, only able to gossip about the event that they are unable to participate in. As we discussed in the lecture on boundary work, individuals differentiate themselves from others by creating a collective identity with those with common traits and experiences. This sense of shared belonging creates a collective identity that separates the upper class "us" from the middle and lower class "them."

           The debutante procedure is not even a single party or event. It is actually an entire season consisting of parties, teas, and dances, all held by upper-class families to formally announce the arrival and availability of their daughter. These "coming out" parties reinforce class solidarity by emphasizing upper-class exclusivity. Because only upper-class daughters and their suitors participate, the season encourages and creates upper-class familial unions and helps daughters of wealthy families find suitable matrimonial partners among their social class.  Through these events, the bonds of intrametropolitan upper-class social relationships are further defined.

Stephen Richard Higley, Privilege, Power, and Place: The Geography of the American Upper Class

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