A debutante ball is an event where a young woman, or in some cultures, a young man, is formally introduced into society. In many societies, such a ball is associated with wealthy and socially-influential families. The United States, England, Ireland and Australia all have variations on this event.
In Australia, a debutante ball is often part of the high school system. It is usually optional and only for those students, both male and female, who wish to take part. Both men and women are included because the ball symbolizes the debut of the soon-to-graduate high school student into the young adult world. Traditionally, the girl asks the boy to the ball, and dinner, speeches, and ballroom dancing are all features of the evening.
In Ireland, these balls are often quite similar to high school proms in the United States. They are a school function and students either go with formal dates or with an informal group of friends. Students often travel by limousine for the occasion. Ballroom dancing is often available, but is traditionally not considered a mandatory activity.
In England, the history of the debutante ball centers around ceremonies that involved the debutante having to wear certain clothing, such as a feather head dress. Traditionally, English debutantes were introduced by former debutantes, often their mothers if they had had a coming out, or else a mother-in-law introducing her son's new wife. Quite often, though, a debutante was a young woman ready to look for a husband. Queen Elizabeth II sanctioned court ceremonies for debutantes and began the English practice of more social introductions in the form of a ball.
In the United States, a debutante ball is also sometimes called a cotillion. American balls may be quite elite and formal, with a receiving line of young women all in white gowns who are introduced in turn on stage by their fathers. The debutante also often has a date at the ball, and sometimes more than one male date. The young men may also be dressed all in white or in a military uniform. Charity donations may be a part of the American ball.