In this history of the debutante ritual, Richardson sheds new light on contemporary ideas about women and marriage. While Richardson came from a family of debutantes, she chose not to debut. But as her curiosity drove her to research this enduring custom, she learned that it, and debutantes, are not as simple as they seem.
What makes Richardson’s account of debutante rituals so fascinating is her exploration of how the practice was exported to the United States ... Blending research and vignettes, she expertly traces the practice through old New York, the antebellum South and into the Gilded Age, when girls outside the tightknit structure of New York society went abroad to seek a husband or a title ... as Richardson reminds us in this engaging and thought-provoking history, the use of daughters to cement power and wealth is very hard to give up.
By identifying the debutante custom as a minor part of women’s history, The Season confers more dignity on it than do those annual posh magazine spreads picturing Texan heiresses and the offspring of movie stars venturing abroad to meet the scions of defunct aristocracies ... [Richardson's] round-up of sample cities that showcase young women—in formats ranging from the formal cotillions in New York, London and Paris, to the carnival of New Orleans and fiesta of San Antonio, to local festivals in smaller towns—seems designed to back up her statement that such presentations actually have been increasing since the 1990s.
... [a] gossipy social history...a dizzying tour of aristocracy and its discontents ... Richardson has an eye for the strange and fascinating details of historical courtship ... Richardson writes sharply and with greatest wit and enthusiasm of the debutante ritual’s importance in the society page ... But for all the colorful descriptions, Richardson falls short when it comes to articulating precisely why debutantes matter and what we should take away from piecemeal anecdotes of their experiences. Part of the problem is a lack of focus. Though it is loosely chronological, the book lacks the central organizing mechanism of a distinct argument. Meanwhile, Richardson’s frequent autobiographical detours account for some of the book’s uneven texture and preoccupation with frivolity ... The debutante ritual 'is long dead but will never die,' Richardson writes, yet her book struggles to explain the source of its longevity. Readers are left instead with vague truisms about American social mobility.