debs in their day

meet a suitably upper-crust husband, more a few agreeable parties to pass the time before university. Sheila Johnston meets the modern-day debs

girls may start off rather reluctant," says Anne Hobson, who came out in 1957 and had since ushered a new generation of girls through the system. "When we ask them `would you like to be a debutante?' they immediately say `no' because the idea is not in their make-up. They're much more serious now, there's no doubt about it." And Elizabeth Ungley, who is preparing to launch her third daughter, believes "there's a lot of inverted snobbery about it. A very hard core of daughters have rebelled and put both feet down. There are certain educational establishments that one would have thought would be a hotbed for potential debs, but the worm has turned. Nobody would dare do it, let alone admit to it."

However, her daughter, Portia, did say "yes" although it meant that as the only girl of 60 in her year at school to come out, she came up against some good- natured teasing. "There's a certain amount of fun made at my expense because it's something that nobody ever expected me to do. There's no disapproval involved, it's just `how bizarre'." Her reasons included a healthy curiosity about what is a unique experience. "I'm surprised to find myself doing it, but also glad. I don't think I'll get the chance to meet the people doing the season at any other time. It's admittedly an odd idea to shove a group of 80 girls together and say `right, you're going to parties together for the next 12 months'. But it works." For many at boarding school it's a way of building up London contacts. Mrs Hobart's daughter, Sophie, confesses that she too hesitated, but was persuaded by friends and by family tradition. "I wouldn't have pushed her into it at all," says Mrs Hobart ."I showed her some cuttings from last year's season and she met a few girls who'd done it. In the end her only reservation was `do I have time?' "

When asked for an interview Peter Townend huffed: "Certainly not.". Asked if he wanted publicity for the fund-raisers, he replied that he would much prefer them to be select and low-profile. But everyone else is anxious to point to the good causes: the appropriately female-oriented charities that will be the beneficiaries of the two main social events. The Berkeley Dress Show will raise funds for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, while September's ball is held in aid of Queen Charlotte's Hospital, which specialises in obstetrics and the prevention of handicap in babies. That's not to say it isn't fun. These girls are no different from the thousands of other stir-crazy school-leavers celebrating the end of exams and perhaps it would be churlish to begrudge them the fact that they have more money than most to spend on their parties.

It is more difficult to defend the whole business against the charges of snobbery. You do not need to be fabulously wealthy in order to do the season. "Contrary to what people expect it can cost amazingly little money," says Lady Celestria. Typically several mothers will club together to throw a small drinks party, "it's rare for a girl to have a large party to herself, much less a full scale ball". As for the frocks, they are more likely to come from Monsoon or a second- hand shop than from a top couturier. And the official line is that anyone can play. "It's not just exclusively for people who happen to come from the right background," Anne Hobson says. "In fact I don't think the girls like that. The elitism has gone. With the season now anyone can join in." Elizabeth Ungley adds: "There's an automatic assumption that because you don't speak BBC English there's no point in going for it. But I don't think that's true." Still, one suspects that if Sharon from Romford, much less Dyanne from Brixton, wanted to join the list, they might get turned away with a dusty answer; and even if they were accepted, they would, as one insider says, be likely to have problems "fitting in".

On the other hand, one can scarcely blame the debs for grabbing the advantages while they are there. They might be privileged by their class, but they're handicapped by their gender and there are more than enough old school ties around to help their male counterparts. The season is, in essence, a brilliantly effective upmarket women's network: the mothers-who-lunch do more than just that and Anne Hobson says she now runs a small antiques business with a friend she made while bringing out her daughter. "The reason most girls do it is that they might meet a couple of kindred spirits," says one journalist who successfully went through the mill in the late Eighties. "I wouldn't have done it if my mother hadn't made me. But it's put me streets ahead." Meanwhile the debs in waiting are taking the only course of action they can: closing their eyes, holding their noses and taking the plunge. "I haven't told most people I'm doing it because I know how they look at it: rich girls having parties and finding boyfriends," says Catherine Redpath, another deb. "It's not like that but it's difficult to explain. But I've decided to do this, I'm going to enjoy it. If they don't understand it, it's their problem."

The Berkeley Dress Show will be held on 2 April at 6.30pm. For more details telephone 0171-734 7070

News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

    Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker