Perhaps it’s all those children’s stories of Cinderella et al being transformed and sent off to the ball that makes formal outfits so appealing to teenage girls (well at least this one, as was). I did feel very like Cinderella at the ball in my Debut gown. I had professional photos taken but the real satisfaction came from the stunned look on my date’s face. He’d been dragooned into being my partner that evening and suddenly he looked as if it might not be such a hardship.
I’d asked a guy from uni who I’d been dating occasionally if he’d be my partner, and initially he said yes, only to renege a few days later. I suspect that when he got back to college, the other blokes told him just what was involved in being a deb’s partner: the white gloves, the formal waltz, the Archbishop presiding and the nuns with an overseeing eye. It couldn’t possibly have been that he didn’t want to go with me <wink>. The irony was that like Mr Cassmob he also came from Papua New Guinea, although nothing like him in colouring….seems I was fated to end up in PNG.
My mother’s dressmaking skills feature prominently as she made all of my evening wear dresses for formals and balls, but my Debut frock was her piece de resistance. I remember very clearly that we chose the white chiffon which she then took to a firm (no idea who/where) to have it permanently pleated into a concertina format.
How did she get it from a long piece of pleated fabric to this? Well, what happened was that she kept the tightness of the pleats at the top near the waist then of course the bottom spread out beautifully (perfect for waltzing and curtsying). She cleverly used a piece of the fabric, stretched out, to make the gorgeous collar. I just looooved this dress. Our bouquets for the evening were muffs (it was the Dr Zhivago era), with blue and white flowers and ribbons, the school colours. It looks as if, for once, I hadn’t gone home and washed all the teasing and hair spray out of my hair before the event which was held in the ballroom of City Hall.
Heaven knows why I decided to make my debut though I don’t think it had anything to do with the “being presented to society” rigmarole. Perhaps for the sheer fun of getting all “gussied” up? The debut was hosted by our recently-departed school, and we were presented to the Archbishop. We had to make this deep curtsy –worthy of meeting the Queen. You could tell the All Hallows’ debs at uni, by the way they walked the week of our training – those curtsies killed your calf muscles, let me tell you.
I suspect that making one’s debut was not as much a social class thing in Australia as it is or was in Britain. Among our photo archives I have Deb photo for my husband’s mother and aunt, and also one of my mother’s friends.
Looking back at all the old photographs it’s surprising how vividly I can feel the texture and cut of the many fabrics either Mum or I made into clothes.