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Harriette Lane

MA work

Gilding The Rose: A Study of Débutantes During the Gilded Age of New York

The growing metropolis of New York during the Gilded Age attracted many of the newly wealthy capitalists and cultural philanthropists. New York’s aspirations to have the same status as European capitals, such as London and Paris, were seemingly resolved through emulation, and the débutante season was one way in which New York followed its European contemporaries.

A girl’s coming-out season was one of the most important periods of her life. It was a social ritual that needed to be a perfectly executed performance, displaying to society that she was both physically and intellectually ready to become a woman and to be integrated into New York’s elite society. Due to the fact that she had not been seen before, her first public event would have been fraught with anxiety. She would have gone from being practically invisible to being the centre of society’s attention. There was a duty to conform to obtain acceptance, but also to compete with the other débutantes. Both conformity and competition were projected through the material culture that surrounded the débutante. The débutante season became synonymous with good etiquette, breeding and cultural knowledge.

One of the aims of my dissertation was to explore the débutante season through etiquette and see how the season was used to sustain a girl and her family’s position in society. It looks closely at the construction of the débutante through contemporary etiquette books and printed media. My aim was to re-establish the preconceived idea of the débutante season as not just a way to display wealth, but to maintain social boundaries, family status and display the transition of child to adult. The anxieties and pressures involved in such a public ceremonial display has been something that has been explored through the individual débutantes' experiences.

Info

  • MA Degree

    School

    School of Fine Art

    Programme

    MA History of Design, 2015

  • The growing metropolis of New York during the Gilded Age attracted many of the newly wealthy capitalists and cultural philanthropists. New York’s aspirations to have the same status as European capitals, such as London and Paris, were seemingly resolved through emulation, and the débutante season was one way in which New York followed its European contemporaries.

    A girl’s coming-out season was one of the most important periods of her life. It was a social ritual that needed to be a perfectly executed performance, displaying to society that she was both physically and intellectually ready to become a woman and to be integrated into New York’s elite society. Due to the fact that she had not been seen before, her first public event would have been fraught with anxiety. She would have gone from being practically invisible to being the centre of society’s attention. There was a duty to conform to obtain acceptance, but also to compete with the other débutantes. Both conformity and competition were projected through the material culture that surrounded the débutante. The débutante season became synonymous with good etiquette, breeding and cultural knowledge.

    One of the aims of my dissertation was to explore the débutante season through etiquette and see how the season was used to sustain a girl and her family’s position in society. It looks closely at the construction of the débutante through contemporary etiquette books and printed media. My aim was to re-establish the preconceived idea of the débutante season as not just a way to display wealth, but to maintain social boundaries, family status and display the transition of child to adult. The anxieties and pressures involved in such a public ceremonial display has been something that has been explored through the individual débutantes' experiences.
  • Degrees

  • BA (Hons) History & Philosophy of Art, University of Kent, 2013