"A glove is the symbol of refinement"
The Debutante tradition, as we know it in the United States, has its roots in 18th century aristocratic England. The idea that a girl should be presented to society stems from the time when a daughter of marriageable age needed to find a husband of suitable and similar social standing.
The Court of the King and Queen of England, known as the Court of St James, was the center of all power. The “season” started with the young lady’s presentation to the court during which she bowed to the Queen – thus the name “The St. James Bow”. (This gesture is made today as the young lady is formally presented.)
The elite coming of age ritual started in this country in 1748 when 59 Colonial Philadelphia families held “Dancing Assemblies,” the forerunner to the Debutante Ball. This tradition continues today throughout the United States as a way to usher young ladies into society. The Debutante Ball also functions as a form of introduction and socialization with eligible bachelors and their families within a select upper-class circle.
Over the centuries, styles and fashion have changed. But, the one constant which ties the early debutante in England to the modern-day American debutante, is the wearing of above-the-elbow white kidskin debutante gloves. The Debutante Glove has been recognized for over a century as one of the foremost symbols of upper-class femininity.
While gloves have been worn for nearly three thousand years, the debutante glove evolved from the opera glove which first appeared in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Queen Elizabeth I of England wore an 18-inch-long pair of white leather gloves at a ceremony in 1566. Hundreds of years later, England’s Queen Mary’s portrait immortalized her in a pair of elbow-length gloves.
Today’s debutante glove is a feminine adaptation that was originally developed for the 17th century French musketeers who were as conspicuous for their daring as they were for their dress. The debutante glove is made of white leather, approximately 16 inches long, with a wrist opening with three small pearl buttons called a mousquetaire. The mousquetaire was put to use by ladies of the period, who would slip their hands through the opening to eat or drink while keeping their gloves on. This same mousquetaire feature is used by today’s debutantes for the same purpose.
In recent years, as the debutante tradition has expanded, the wearing of satin gloves has crept in. Upper-class families, however, continue to maintain the tradition of wearing kidskin gloves. For they understand that the very sight of a debutante wearing white kidskin debutante gloves sends a powerful signal that the wearer is a lady of elegance, refinement, and grace.