The costumes were pretty much spot on, and beautiful! One huge error with the presentation itself. After Rose's curtsy, she was to walk out of the room backwards, without tripping on her train. Instead, she walked by the King and Queen, and turned her back to them as she left the room. This was NEVER done.
There are many wonderful blogs written about court presentations and the beautiful gowns that were worn from the 1700s through Queen Victoria’s reign. So, I will concentrate on the 20th Century, and the end of the presentations. I have included many links to actual articles, as this blog would be way too long for you to read with all the information included. I hope you enjoy these links.
The London Season began approximately after Easter through August 12th (the beginning of hunting season). It was also loosely based on Parliament’s schedule and more importantly, sporting events. The Derby and Ascot are the highlights of the season. During this time, there were several court presentations for young ladies to “come out” into society, in hope they would meet and marry wealthy eligible young men from the “right backgrounds”. Once out, they were free to attend debutante balls, dances, parties, and other activities. One big event of the season was Queen Charlotte’s Ball started in 1780 by King George as a birthday celebration for his Queen.
Only certain women and young ladies could be presented at court. There were three qualifications that had to be fulfilled to receive a royal summons: 1. The lady should be of good moral and social character. 2. The lady needed to be sponsored by a woman who had already been presented. Usually it was a young lady’s mother, or other older female relative, sometimes however, a presented woman who was short of money would sponsor, for a fee, young women who had no one else. 3. Only certain women were allowed to be presented at court: wives and daughters of the aristocracy, of town and country gentry, of the clergy, of military officers, of professional men such as physicians and barristers, and a few other select groups.
Those who wished to be presented had to have someone who had previously been presented to the Sovereign apply on their behalf. This could be their mother or someone close to the family. Once accepted, a royal summons from the Lord Chamberlain would be sent.
At the ceremony, the lady, accompanied by her sponsor, would first be announced by The Lord Chamberlain. She would then approach the throne and drop into a full court curtsy, her knee almost touching the floor. She would hold this position while bowing first to Their Majesties and then to any other royals in the Presence Chamber. She would then leave, backing out of the room, since one never turned their back on the King or Queen, all the while taking care not to trip over her gown.
A train was attached to the shoulders of the dress. The length of the train varied throughout the years: under Queen Victoria, trains were not less than three yards in length, but by 1925, trains could not exceed 2 yards in length or extend more than 18 inches from the heel when standing. The train could be cut round or square as was the fashion or the wearer’s inclination, but was required to be 54 inches in width at the end. White gloves were also required. You may carry flowers or a fan.
Headdresses were also required, worn slightly on the left. The headdress included a tulle veil and white feathers, although black could be used when in deep mourning. The number of feathers increased through the years from a single towering ostrich feather at the time of Queen Charlotte, to three feathers arranged in a Prince of Wales plume later in Queen Victoria’s reign. The three white feathers should be mounted and worn towards the left hand side of the head. Married women could wear tiaras. In addition, a short veil was worn, or lace lappets. Previously presented Mothers/Sponsors generally wore two white feathers.
Photo: Court Accessories 1926 Museovirasto, Finland
1899 Early on, the only exception to the all white rule was of course, mourning. This is a beautiful example of a mourning presentation gown. Countess Victor di Carrobi, who was presented by Baroness de Renzis. Layfayette Collection, V&A
1900. Lady Darell, with her daughter Dorothy and Mrs. H.C. Jobson The Layfayette Collection, V&A
1904. The young Norah Cleveland Smith was presented at Court on May 13th 1904. Her photo and presentation card which is shared here. Norah Cleveland Smith
1907. Laura and Eva Farlow had a wonderful presentation, which Laura wrote an article about in Success Magazine, Volume X, New York December 1907, Number 163. It was reprinted in The Royal Magazine, May 1908, Volume 20, "A Description of the formalities, the glorious moment, and afterwards."
read article here starting page 805
1907 Left. Read about this beautiful gown on the FIDM blog. It gives a very detailed account of the presentation process and has more photos of this gown Link here
1911-13 Below. http://lafayette.org.uk/war12506.html
1912 - Left
Major Reginald Francis Legge and Mrs Reginald Francis Legge
1912 - Right
Mrs. Charles Graeme Higgins, née Algitha Howard
Formal presentations were dropped during World War I, but were resumed in 1922.
Mrs. Ogden Hammond, 21 June 1922: presented by Mrs. Harvey.
1926. Court presentation gown and train, Jacques Doucet, 1926. Gift of Miss Mary Dudley Kenna. In the collection of the Chicago History Museum. 1965.380a-e. Photo by Katy Werlin. Read this wonderful blog on the gown http://www.thefashionhistorian.com/2014/08/the-past-and-future-two-court.html
1927. Lady Blades in her court presentation ensemble, Lafayette Photo Studio.
1928 Right. Gorgeous Boue Soeurs gown
1928. Right - Beautiful art deco gown, covered in pearls. Helen Hurley Ryan in her court gown and train. You can also read about it and see this original gown, as well as the pink 1927 Jacques Ducet here
1928 Left - Silk and lame with net, sequins and rhinestones Philadelphia Museum of Art.
1929 Callot Soeurs dress worn by Marjorie Merriweather Post for her presentation. From the Cartier: Marjorie Merriweather Post's Dazzling Gems" exhibition at the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens
1930. AMAZING movie by British Pathe Debutantes for the Court. Arriving by droves. Must Watch This!!
1931. Another movie, this time with sound "London. The First Court of the Season. Large crowds gather in the Mall to see - and sometimes criticize - beautifully gowned debutantes on way to Buckingham Palace." Must Watch This Too!!
1931 Left - Miss R. Bingham. Published in the Evening Standard. Bassano Studio Production collections.
Museum of London
1932-34 Right Boue Soeurs from the Metropolitan Museum
1933- Left. Edward Molyneax designer. Metmuseum.org
1935- Right. Harvey Nichols department store in Knightsbridge, London, advertising a "gown of classic simplicity" original
"In 1936, King Edward VIII, in an attempt to introduce a more informal and democratic tone in his court, decided to do away with the evening presentations and instead introduce afternoon ones; much to the chagrin of the mothers of the debutantes presented that year. It wasn’t a success as it rained on the day of the first presentation which put an abrupt end to the proceedings and gave rise to a number of irate comments from mothers who thought their daughters had been cheated of an opportunity to experience the same ceremony as they did, or thought that the garden party court was a poor substitute for the traditional evening one.
There was much relief when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth reinstated the traditional evening courts in 1937 but they were suspended for the duration of the Second World War. When they were resumed after the war, it was deemed inappropriate to reintroduce the evening courts and so Edward VIII’s idea of a garden party presentation was revived and remained in place until they were finally abolished." Source
"In 1937 the King decided that the presentation of debutantes would take place as before in evening court. The ceremony began at 9:30, and it took all day to get ready. The debutantes spoke of it in awe. "They describe queuing up in the mall (and everyone would crowd around your car and peer in at you, sitting there in your Prince of Wales feathers). A great beauty of the Season says, "When I curtseyed, the King looked down the front of my dress!" One deb gave a rollicking account of her presentation, saying she was "all dolled up, gold lame train and all. We had to curtsey to the King, get up, walk one and a half steps to the Queen, curtesy, then walk backwards out of the room, doing something with the damned train. I managed the low curtsey to the King, but when I went down in front of the Queen, I heard my heel break off!" "1939: The Last Season of Peace" by Angela Lambert
Thomas Lee Jones writes on his website about Miss Anna Glen, a young American girl, to be presented to the king and queen of England. “We embarked as planned, armed with a letter describing the rules and regulations concerning court etiquette and dress. Once in London, my white satin dress was made. The train, which hung separately from the shoulders, had to trail a prescribed distance on the floor. The same with the tulle veil, whose official length seemed to hit the middle of the rear end, so sitting was difficult. I also had to make certain I did not dislodge the three feathers on my head. The feather fan was purchased and all was ready.” She also took classes, wherein she learned how to walk, curtsy, and leave the room.
Finally the big night: July 1, 1937. The first court of King George after the coronation, and what turned out to be the last formal, feather-and-fans court ever. “With this great silver mace, the Lord Chamberlain hit the floor three times and called out the name of each debutante and suddenly it was my name, Miss Anna Glenn Butler of the United States of America. And there I was walking along the length of the Throne Room and through the entire routine! I remember well the lovely smile of the queen’s face as I bowed my head to her.”
1938-9 Elsa Schiaparelli presentation gown
Christopher A. Long wrote a wonderful article on his conversation with his mother who was presented in 1939, and the season that followed just before World War II broke out. Read about this amazing woman HERE
Again, presentations stopped during wartime. When they resumed after World War II, the ceremony was replaced with more casual afternoon reception. The choreographed curtsies and court dress also went away. Edward VIII's boredom with the 'Deb' Court Presentation led to one disastrous afternoon ceremony in the gardens at Buckingham Palace. Not only did the King appear to doze through much of it but the rain came down too.
"Court presentations continued after the war, but they gradually became less opulent. In the post-war 1940s evening Courts were replaced with afternoon presentations (for which afternoon dresses were worn); and with that, the donning of full Court dress ceased to be a rite of passage for young women taking their place in society." Wikipedia
1953 House of Balmain Presentation Gown Metmuseum.org
By 1953, ladies attending the Coronation were directed to wear 'evening dresses or afternoon dresses, with a light veiling falling from the back of the head. Tiaras may be worn ... no hats'. Court presentations continued, but they gradually became less opulent.
1957 Right. Debutantes and their families lining up for entrance to an afternoon presentation party.
THE LAST PRESENTATION
The very last Presentation occurred in 1958. This group has come to be known as “The Last Debutantes”. HERE
In 2010, over fifty years later, these same women graciously lent Kensington Palace their original evening dresses for display at the exhibit. Some of them had even saved their shoes, hats, and tubes of lipstick from the monumentous evening! Read about the exhibit HERE
Right: Evening dress of pink silk organza. Charles Worth. Part of "The Last Debutantes" exhibition at Kensington Palace in 1958.
This link is to a fantastic slide show about the last debutante court presentation audio slide show
Attire requested was a ladies day dress and hat, suitable for the afternoon presentation party.
At the 1958 Presentation Prince Philip pointed out that it was ‘bloody daft’. As well as Prince Phillip's dismissal, the Queen felt such an elitist event was at odds with her desire for a more modern monarchy.
The system itself was also becoming open to abuse, as well-born ladies charged large fees to bring out girls whose credentials were not always of the highest. The titled but money poor women would launch several debutantes at once. By 1958 the exclusivity of the Season was eroded. In the immortal words of Princess Margaret, "We had to put a stop to it. Every tart in London was getting in."
For further reading on the Last Debs, see “High Society: Whatever Happened to the Last of the Debs?” Read Here and “What was it like to come out at a debutante ball?” Read Here