Simply stated, a cotillion is a formal party, dinner or dance dedicated to the purpose of introducing young Southern debutante's into society by their families and specifically by their fathers, some say with the sole purpose of giving their blessing for suitable suitors. Historically families hosted grand balls in their homes to introduce their daughters. Many older homes in the south have ballrooms. However, over time the tradition developed where country clubs and other organizations took over the growing responsibility of not only hosting the party, but preparing the young girls in a social education (called a Finishing School) and also attracting the young gentleman to whom they would be introduced.
Cotillion literally means "petticoat" in French, and it is meant to introduce young ladies into society and to show off their social graces, first learned at home and some in various finishing schools. Today there is a league of junior cotillions which is an organization that trains both young boys and girls in etiquette, manners, character-building and dance during a three-year program. Nashville had Fortnightly, a similar school with a two year program that met every other Saturday evening for girls and boys in the 7th and 8th grades.
Columbia has the Athenaeum 1861 Girls School, which is much of the same only in 1861 attire and with the emphasis on the original education from 1861... needlepoint, side-saddle horseback riding, taking tea, dance. The Jackson Cadets are the male counterparts.
The debutantes being presented are generally between the ages of 16 and 18, wear white, and many with long gloves. They are generally presented with flowers. Many receive other gifts from family members, pearls for example from their grandmothers.
If you are passed Cotillion age, you can attend the Ladies Weekend at the Athenaeum, and you can still live by the rules of the South. I can't begin to write them all down, but here are a few...
1) Always wear white to your own Christening, Cotillion, and Wedding, no matter how many weddings may have been in your past.
2) Never wear white after labor day or before Easter unless it is your own Christening, Cotillion, or Wedding . See Rule #1. Otherwise, it's just tacky.
3) Ladies do not wear hats after 5pm, nor show their decollatage before 5pm. It's kind of like a fashion toggle-switch.
4) If you forget someone's name, simply call them "Darlin," it's perfectly acceptable.
5) Write a Thank you note for everything. Appreciation and good manners open doors.
Well that about does it for today. The creative juices are flowing and I can think of many, many more Southern rules, but I don't want to overwhelm you. Until our next session of Southern Belle University, memorize your southernisms, add lots of sugah to the sweet tea, and practice saying "Darlin" like you mean it!Pin It