Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sociology
As a student of sociology, I have found debutante balls a worthy area of study, for both academic and personal reasons. Indeed, the social phenomenon of debutante balls should be of particular interest to sociologists, as the events—which, in reality, are not comprised of just a single ball, but a multiple months-long process—are opportune sites of studying the intersections of race, class, gender, region, and family. Certainly the North Carolina debutante ball may be seen as a microcosm of all these things, as, more often than not, all participating families are white; the fee for merely accepting an invitation is nearly $3,000; strictly nineteen year-old women are presented strictly by men (usually a father) to society, with the traditional rhetoric of being available for marriage; the ball is region-specific (only families currently living in North Carolina may be invited); and women can participate by invite only, which is based, in large part, on family legacy (if their family has prominent historical ties to North Carolina and to the tradition of the debutante ball.) Considering these intersections, my research lends the argument that two of the primary functions of the social process are to maintain ties between prominent social figures in the state and to pass social status—and, consequentially, opportunity for gaining material wealth—onto succeeding generations. Therefore, the Terpsichorean debutante ball is not only a rite of passage that marks the coming-of-age for a certain group of young women: it is also a cultural site of reproducing wealth, status, and social elitism in North Carolina, which, as I will expand on in my discussion of the data, has implications not only for the small circle of debutante families, but for the overarching economic and social organization of North Carolina as a whole.