Wednesday, January 2, 2018. The first day of the New Year in New York was warm — 60 degrees — and sunny. People were out strolling, walking their dogs on the Promenade by the river. That was after a New Year’s Eve of heavy, steady rains until about when the clock struck midnight. The city was otherwise generally quiet, with much lighter traffic. Like a Sunday midsummer when it’s quiet but people begin returning after a weekend in the country.
On December 29th, they held the 64th International Debutante Ball and dinner dance at the Pierre Hotel. It was described as such:
Elegant, young and full of promise, twenty-two accomplished young women of distinction made their debut at the 64th International Debutante Ball and dinner dance at the Pierre Hotel in New York City on December 29th.
Each debutante gracefully made her entrance poised in an exquisite designer gown, carrying a bouquet of pink roses and was accompanied by her own escort donned in white tie and tails.
As she walked into the spotlight to be formally presented, the Lester Lanin Orchestra played her country or state song. This year’s debutantes represented Belgium, England, France, India, Liechtenstein, Scotland and nine American states.
What was not reported was the “feeling” in the room. A social/cultural tradition was being performed, what was at one time, long ago, a real rite of passage for a young woman, one that came with practical expectations. Now in the 21st century in its present version, there’s a still touch of serenity in the occasion. The young women beautifully dressed, conveying the glory of youth, are moving into the world of grownups. Many of their elders – parents, grandparents, friends — were in the room and reminded of their own youth, glorious in memory. For that is what an evening such as this evokes for its guests. A sweet moment.
There was a time in the century past when a “debut” marked the beginning of an adventure that led to great fame and fortune, not as well as occasional notoriety and tragedy — Brenda Frazier, Gloria Vanderbilt, Jackie, Barbara Hutton and lo, Joanne Connelley. The intention back then was still purposeful — to introduce a young woman to Society — the debut, imbuing romantic qualities, legendary qualities. And most often maybe meeting the right guy of the same generation.
The first “New York” debutante ball I attended many moons ago was during the holiday season at a country club in Rye, New York. I was a guest of my college roommate whose girlfriend was making her debut that night. (Fifty years later they are still together.) It was one of the first times for me wearing black tie (or was it white tie?) and the formality lent itself to a sense of “grown up” time (imagined of course). Everything about it was a special occasion and therefore curious. All the girls looked good, and smart, and self-confident (poised) to this reaching late adolescent. It was intimidating but impressive.
I particularly remember one girl, a blonde, a beauty, who caught my eye when I first saw her dancing with her father, a distinguished looking man, clearly comfortable in his milieu. I had never seen her before (nor have I seen her since). I wanted to meet her, but I didn’t know her, or the rules for cutting in at one of these “coming out” parties.
So I just observed — from afar. She danced much of the time with her father. It was clear that she was in his thrall. I knew I couldn’t compete with that. So I never met her.
I never forgot her, however, and the image of her dancing in her white gown with a distinguished looking older man. Nor did I ever hear her name again — until about thirty-five years later, when a friend of mine was telling me about his father’s remarriage. Long a widower, a man in his senior years, my friend’s father had met and married a beautiful young divorcee by the same name as the girl at the debutante dinner dance. It was she. Aha!
I still haven’t met her.
Meanwhile, this past Saturday evening at the Pierre, it was a colorful and patriotic event. Its sponsors this year were Ms. Julia Irene Kauffman and The Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation. In the receiving line, as Chairman, Ms. Kauffman greeted each of the 350 guests as if they were the only person in the room.
She said she learned how to welcome and respect all guests from her father, Ewing Kauffman, who greeted every single person who entered the Kauffman Stadium gates, home of the Kansas City Royals, with individualized warmth and attention. As applied to the ball she said, “I love this event because it is important for young people in this day and age to carry on these social skills, and to apply kindness, respect, manners and to have real life experiences.” You said it Ms. Kauffman!!
The ball benefits The International Debutante Ball Foundation Charities, including the Soldiers’, Sailors’, Marines’, Coast Guard and Airmen’s Club of New York City, which has been providing a home away from home for the men and women of our armed services since 1919, and other International Debutante Ball Foundation Charities.
The evening’s Co-Chairs were Ms. Anne Eisenhower and Mrs. David R. Hamilton. The Director and General Chairman was Mrs. Gregory S. Hedberg and additional Ball Chairmen included Mrs. Andrew E. Beer, Mrs. Spencer Neville Brown, Mrs. Ryland E.D. Chase, Mrs. D. David Eisenhower, Ms. Susan Eisenhower and Mrs. Jacqueline Mars.
Photographs by Elaine & ChiChi Ubina & Aurora Rose/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images