Debutante balls conjure grainy monochrome images of aristos in frothy meringues, ostrich feathers and pearls, ready for their eligible bachelors. Think Stephen Polikoff’s films A Real Summer and Capturing Mary, both brilliant studies of the social and cultural changes that took place in 1958, the the last year that debs were presented to the Queen, just before the cataclysm of the 1960s, free love and miniskirts.

Now? Well, the imagery is a little more ambiguous. Since then the prom has undergone many transformations. Carrie and Mean Girls have turned the American Prom Queen into an icon of cruelty, competitiveness and (often brutal) violence. Britain has taken a little longer to reinvent the scene – neon Asos frocks and parental Volvos just don’t translate well onto the big screen. Blogs and forums are full of chat but pre-prom Pinterest boards remain SECRET to protect the climactic reveal.

Frankly, a date has become an encumbrance, rather than a possible future prince. Most assignations are made via a note passed in class or a moment of drunken boldness over Lambrini at the bus-stop. More often than not, it’s more fun to pair up with your bezzy. At least they’ll appreciate your dress.

But there is still a poignant power to the moment of presentation, and it’s probably scarier to reveal your prettiest self to your peers than the monarch. This is the last chance you get to spin your school identity. This is the last chance to play at grown-ups before you have to deal with the reality.

If you’re not crying at the end of the night, you’re not doing it right.

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(from left to right) Lucy wears dress and bolero from She’s A Bettie, gloves by Cornelia James, headband by Louis Mariette, Lydia wears dress by Jenny Packham, gloves from Beyond Retro, Jess wears top (worn underneath) by John Rocha, dress by Notte by Marchesa, gloves by Cornelia James, all girls wears jewellery from Gillian Horsup

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Lydia wears dress by Luisa Beccaria, top worn underneath by John Rocha, necklace by Lulu Frost, and gloves from She’s A Bettie, Lucy wears top by Ermanno Scervino, dress by Luisa Beccaria, gloves by Cornelia James, earrings from Gillian Horsup, necklace by Lulu Frost, both wear headbands by Louis Mariette

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Dress by Reem Juan, top worn underneath by Erdem, jewellery from Gillian Horsup

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Dress worn underneath by Antipodium, vintage dress by Beyond Retro, barrette by Louis Mariette, gloves by Cornelia James, bracelet from Gillian Horsup

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(from left to right) Jess wears vintage dress from She’s A Bettie, gloves by Cornelia James, Lucy wears dress (worn underneath) by Luisa Beccaria, blue dress by Amen Couture, Lydia wears vintage dress from She’s A Bettie and shoes by Dior. All girls wear jewellery from Gillian Horsup.

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Dress by Reem Juan, jewellery from Gillian Horsup

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Jess wears vintage dress from She’s A Bettie, gloves and hat from Beyond Retro, jewellery from Gillian Horsup

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Lucy wears dress worn underneath from Beyond Retro, gown by Luisa Beccaria

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Jess (on stairs) wears dress Chanel, dress (worn underneath) by Rochas, veil worn as train by Sara Sboul, shoes by Dior, headband by Louis Mariette, earrings from Gillian Horsup, Lucy wears top by Ermanno Scervino, dress by Luisa Beccaria, gloves by Cornelia James, earrings from Gillian Horsup, necklace by Lulu Frost, and headpiece by Louis Mariette. Lydia wears dress by Luisa Beccaria, top worn underneath by Dior, necklace by Lulu Frost, headpiece by Louis Mariette, and gloves from She’s A Bettie

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Lydia wears choker from Gillian Horsup, vintage dress from She’s A Bettie, Jess wears dress by Luisa Beccaria, necklace from Gillian Horsup and hat by Louis Mariette

Photographer: Holly Falconer
Stylist: Jaclyn Bethany
Models: Jess Houghton at Next Model Management, Lucy Chappell at Storm Model Management, Lydia Graham at Models 1
Hair: Elvire Roux using Bumble and bumble, Makeup: Michelle Dacillo using MAC Cosmetics
Photographer’s assistant: James Metcalfe, Stylist’s assistant: Lucas Asin, Location: St Ermin’s Hotel, London, Photographic lab: Labyrinth Photographic Printing, London

Words: Sarah Eve

 

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