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The Season: A Social History of the Debutante

3.44  ·  Rating details ·  671 ratings  ·  123 reviews
The world of debutantes opens into a revealing story of women across six centuries, their limited options, and their desires.

Digging into the roots of the debutante ritual, with its ballrooms and white dresses, Kristen Richardson - herself descended from a line of debutantes - was fascinated to discover that the debutante ritual places our contemporary ideas about women an
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Hardcover, 288 pages
Published November 19th 2019 by W. W. Norton Company
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Average rating 3.44  · 
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Sherwood Smith
An engaging social history that, perhaps wisely, avoids reflecting the ever-evolving history of marriage, which was running in a not-always-parallel track to the presentation of eligible young woman through English history in particular.

It's a fun read, but I caution anyone serious about history to delve further, as I caught a number of errors. Besides naming the wrong king George (a mistake easily made) at the turn of the twentieth century, the farther back in history the more errors that I sus
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Caidyn (he/him/his)
Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

I find social histories fascinating. I thought that Richardson did a lot of research, starting even before Elizabeth I and moving through to now. That's amazing and she condensed all she learned into a book that will be around 300 pages. Like, wow. For me, I got a bit glazed after a while, but it's still interesting. I could see myself revisiting this at some point in the future!

One thing, though. One part in the book, she talked ab
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Natalie
Jul 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was pleasantly surprised at how much more than describing the rites of debutantes this book speaks to. Within the framework of describing the debutante phenomenon, the author meshes it with changing social norms and growing internationalism.

A few debs are highlighted to give the reader an understanding of both Deb and post Deb years. I found this book very engaging and I would recommend it to women’s studies courses. It’s a delightful way to read social history while becoming cognizant of glo
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Nancy
Wow, this was terrible.

Other reviews have mentioned how this is rife with errors, so I’ll just add one more: that the author doesn’t know the difference between shillings and pence. Add to that a lack of focus and a tone that manages to be both snooty and sneering as the author tries to be both in and out. Finally, I’d like to know her credentials, both educational and professional; it seems she has none worth mentioning. Her coyness and evasiveness about the schools she attended and where she’s
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Julie
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
I read a book review that enticed me to read this book, but I probably should have known the subject matter would not interest me very much. In my opinion this should have been a magazine article, not a book. It did not have enough interesting information for a book-length piece. And basically, I don't care that much about the debutante scene.
John Behle
Jan 31, 2020 rated it liked it
Don't let those evening gloves on that pink mauve cover fool you — this is a terse, tense history of deep social revision.

Kristen Richardson educates the reader through six centuries of debutante culture that arose from attempts to preserve, promote and propagate bastions of power and culture. From the English court of Elizabeth I through to our colonial days, blending research and vignettes, she traces the practice to New York, antebellum South and into the Gilded Age. Later chapters brings on
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Rose
**Disclaimer** I won this ARC from a Goodreads giveaway. This doesn't chance my review, but I thought I should mention it. I wasn't required to write this review, it just seemed polite to do so after getting a free book.

An interesting and relatively quick read about a bit of history I hadn't though much about before

My only complaints are really the lack of pictures and minimal period quotes/description. After all the mention of journals and letters in the introduction I found myself wanting to h
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Mehrsa
Nov 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating history of Debutante traditions that is actually a social history of class, gender, and race. The tradition started in Great Britain after the nunneries closed up and people had to figure out what to do with their unmarriagable daughters. Fathers got the legislature to grant them veto power over their daughters' marriages so that they would not lower the family's class. In America, the Debutante ball was a class marker and it varied between north and south, black and white ...more
Alexander Peck
The irony is that in her book, that sneers at the rituals for young women to gain social connections in elite circles to enter that society with some renown and hopefully establish some wealth, she attends a debutante ball to gain some connections to this elite circle so she could better write her book and enter literary/academic society with some renown and make a bit of money.

The author seems a bit miffed when at this party after she tells them she is a writer they all go a bit silent towards
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Nikki Gorman
Listened to the audiobook. While relatively interesting and engaging, filling me with facts I had no prior knowledge of, I also did find myself zoning out at points. I’ve never been one for name-dropping, so some of the anecdotes that we’re centered around “prominent” figures or whatever just didn’t stick with me.

The most interesting part for me is how this seemingly archaic tradition continues on in modern times, and is actually now being adopted by other countries like Russia and China, and ho
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Christy Goldsmith
Jun 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
It has been previously established that I don't like reading nonfiction for entertainment, but apparently the age of the pandemic broke me. I read quite a bit of enjoyable nonfiction in this time, and I'll have you know that I'm working to undo this new propensity of mine.

Anyway, The Season is a text clearly written for folks who either (1) love reading Regency novels or (2) were English majors forced to read Regency novels for many years. I fall in the latter category. I have read Jane Austen
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Samantha
Feb 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
A thorough and fascinating account of the debutante as a both a catalyst for and product of social history.

I came to this book with a voyeuristic and admittedly slightly sneering perspective on debutante culture. What I actually got was an enthralling and poignant socio-contextual history of the role and value of women in western society.

Richardson does an outstanding job of taking a topic that feels niche (especially in this day and age) and applying its evolution to the study of the changin
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Elena Akers
Sep 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A really interesting social history - admittedly, I was a tad bored in the beginning half, but I kept reading because I knew the more contemporary analysis would be interesting, and it was. The last few chapters really showed how debutantes stand in the world today, including the author’s first hand experiences, how the ritual sticks around to reaffirm wealth and status in WASP societies, and how it has been used to gain respect in black American societies. Debutante balls can be extremely class ...more
Emily
Dec 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, thesis
This was absolutely fascinating start to finish. The author has a well-supported, nuanced thesis that demonstrates the importance of diversity and family and cultural change while engaging with economics, literature, and politics over time. Richardson compared my guy Ward McAllister to Martha Stewart (!!), taught me about 18th century women's shoes not having a distinct right/left foot, explored the modern and commercial notion of the "celebutante," and taught me about the Texas Dip (I looked it ...more
Kaitlin
Feb 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: feminism, non-fiction
This book is profoundly sad. Maybe I got that impression because I just watch Portrait of a Lady on Fire and couldn't stop thinking about the sheltered constraints of Emily Gilmore in Gilmore girls especially when Rory agrees to come out, but maybe not.
The research is excellent and the author tries to delve into all the facets she can and also maintains an understanding and sympathy for these women instead of judgement (that's not to say to let's them off the hook for some truly atrocious behavi
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Lisa of Hopewell
May 06, 2020 rated it liked it
When we hear the word “Debutante” often we think of girls like Kathleen and Rosemary Kennedy being presented “at the Court of St. James”–i.e. to the British monarch. This event signaled their arrival at the upper-class “Tinder” of the day–the marriage market for the upper-classes. While we will hear about some British debs and their rituals and personalities, here at home, the United States also has a fairly rich debutante history of our own. Author Kristen Richardson explores the history, quirk ...more
TJL
The author doesn't really make a secret of the fact that she went into this biased against Debutantes/Debuting, and so it's not surprising that the book basically has every ounce of information available to back up her presumptions. Literally at the end, she reiterates that the Debutante practices in the African-American community perform some good (scholarships, etc.) and then immediately dunks on them again by bringing up classism.

In particular, it bothered me to see the chapters on Old New Y
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Rachel
May 10, 2020 rated it liked it
On the plus side, this book did compile a lot of facts about debutantes through the ages that I don't think many historians (read: men) would have bothered to do. On the negative side, it's heavily weighted in favour of American and recent traditions. What I really wanted was granular detail on how the Elizabethan 'withdrawing rooms' became the 'coming out' of Regency romances. However, Richardson isn't a historian, she's a journalist who got interested in this topic via her own experiences (des ...more
Miki
Dec 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Well written account of the centuries old custom of the selling of young women into marriage, thinly disguised as a coveted social event. A extremely distasteful fact is that some of the most well-known debutante events are headed by middle-aged white men, who meet together and choose their "favorite" young women to participate. The lucky girls are then escorted through presentation, dinners, and dancing by these old men. The practice still occurs among several levels of society, sometimes disgu ...more
Steven Yenzer
Aug 18, 2020 rated it liked it
An evenhanded and unsentimental look at the history (and a little of the present) of debutantes. I think the Goodreads reviews of this have been artificially deflated by defensive debutantes and people involved in debuting. The book isn’t even really “anti-debutante” as much as it is honest about the paternalism and classism that is such a big part of these rituals.
Sona
Feb 24, 2020 rated it it was ok
Interesting topic, but the book was dense and meandered. The writer included too many direct excerpts from primary sources rather than summarizing. Also, no mention was made about debuts and debutantes in other cultures within the US (i.e. Latinx, Filipino), which was disappointing.
Karen
Sep 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
I listened to the audio book, which was very well done. I enjoyed the book and its contents immensely. It was not only engaging but also educational. I would recommend it if you have ever been even remotely interested in the ritual of daughters of the upper class.
Erica
Nov 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Not a rigorous history, but an interesting one. Probably deserves 3.5 stars. Like a proper American she mixed up some English kings.
Becky
Sep 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: for-fun
5 stars for being researched and thorough. 2 stars for how much I enjoyed reading it. I guess that I just thought it would be more fun.
Lesley Ghidossi
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating book and subject matter. I grabbed this as an audio book and honestly didn't even know this was a non-fiction book. Kristen Richardson has done her homework. I must say I can better understand my favorite Jane Austen novels on a whole new level with the this information and importance of coming out to society. Sure enough after I listened to this book, Reese Witherspoon's daughter was just presented at the ball in France.
Julie Carlson
Mar 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating look at the debutante ritual. Richardson moves from the beginning of the debutantes in England to today's presentations in Russia and China. Lots of interesting historical tidbits thrown in. I was expecting fluff but this was an interesting book.
Merenwen
Aug 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
I had to dock a star from my rating because there's a historical error in one of the chapters. Richardson mentions that King George V was a stammerer and was brother to Edward VIII, who abdicated. But it was George IV who was the stammerer with the abdicating brother. She had the right king for the era that the chapter was covering (which was around the time of the First World War), but attributed the wrong history to him.

Despite that, this is a very well-researched book. The first chapter was a
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Megan Dorsey
Dec 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
Had to make myself finish this one. I did learn things from reading (hence the two stars), but the interesting facts did not offset the hours spent slogging through what felt like a college research assignment. Most of the book reads like a literature review— any novel, newspaper, or documentary mentioning the society season included. It is sprinkled with a few of the author’s personal experiences written in such a way to make her unlikable— (I felt of out place without my own kid leather deb pa ...more
Alex
I think sociology is one of the most under-rated fields of study in the soft-sciences. Honestly, I think it should be a required element of every single other course of study a student could follow because it gives a certain backbone of context to things that makes retaining the information easier, and gives the information itself more innate value.

The Season is a shining example of why that kind of context is significant.

This history lesson is sweepingly informative, covering six centuries and
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Scott Martin
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
(Audiobook) (2.5 stars) Sometimes, you just randomly checkout a book in a subject you wouldn't normally read about and decide to try it out. Such is the case with this book. Normally, I don't have any major interest in debutantes and high society, but I found this more interesting than expected. This work talks about the origins of the debutante and the various debutante balls, whereby upper class women would "officially" enter society, a transition from childhood to womanhood. The author grew u ...more
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Kristen Richardson grew up in a family of debutantes. She didn’t come out, but wrote a popular article about it for Rookie. She worked at Harper’s and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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