Artifact Analysis: The White Dress
As a matter of tradition, debutantes are required to wear full-length white gowns that resemble (or are, in fact) wedding gowns. Historically, the dresses were literal references to weddings, as "coming-out" meant that a debutante's family was presenting their daughter as eligible to be wed. Today, it is not expected that debutantes will become engaged as a result of Cotillion, yet the dress is just as important as it was historically.
While our Ball was in December, we were being asked as early as June if we had picked our dresses out yet. Some girls wear the same dresses their mothers or even grandmothers wore--either at their own Cotillions of in their weddings. Other girls wear dresses that have been passed down by friends who have also been Debutantes. Some buy them new from bridal stores (where else are you going to find a dress like that). Still others work with designers to create their very own dresses for the event.
The price tags of these gowns have as much variation as the options of ways you can have your hair done for the Ball. Girls who are using already-worn dresses will still need to have them altered. This seemingly simple task could cost anywhere between $100-500, depending on where you go and how much work needs to be done. A new dress typically costs between $700 and $5,000. All new dresses will also need to be altered to fit the specific girl.
The variation in price in the dresses comes from who designed the dress, what material it is made out of, the style (beading and lace are typically more expensive than simple layering of fabric), and when the dress was designed (a dress from a recent collection will most likely be more expensive than an older design).
While this may seem like an impossible amount of options, every ball has requirements for the dresses which limit the choices. For our ball, our dresses had to be bright white, not ivory. We were not supposed to have any distracting items on them--things like big bows and silver beading were not allowed. We were allowed to have straps or strapless gowns (most balls insist on straps), and preferable our dresses were to have some degree of a skirt.
My grandmother insisted that I wear a new dress for the ball. We had to have the dress picked out by July, and it was fitted four times in between when I picked it out and when I wore it at the Ball. While I was more than appreciative of her gift, I had a hard time coming to terms with the amount of time and money that was spent on a dress that I would most likely only wear once. Regardless, the tradition of the white dress is still reveared by those invested in Cotillion, and I do not aniticapte it ever changing. Our dresses were just as much members of the Ball that night as we were.