Head to Head: Debs’ Balls

“If you are yearning to go relive your glory days, go drink in a field”

By Roisin Costello

The debs is an institution in Irish society which is both applauded and maligned in equal measure every year but which somehow manages to survive as a celebrated event. The flaws of the debs are trotted out by schools debaters every year in preliminary rounds of Gael Linn. Surely then the reputation of the institution must be precarious, its facade of respectability chipped by the general consensus among most people that they serve no useful purpose?

Yet the debs remains fairly unscathed – its flaws being generally accepted to exist but swept under the carpet and regarded as the kind of complaints raised by the people who wouldn’t understand the appeal of a huge booze-up in black tie. I go to Trinity, so I appreciate the appeal of tottering around the Shelbourne in a full-length dress as much as anybody. The debs, however, is different kettle of well-dressed fish.

On a purely social level, the debs’ merit is questionable. It was and still is no more than a superficial rite of passage, an arena for the pretty people to compete with each other. The debs is a shadow of things past – the last vestige of the social institution that saw girls let loose in society in the hopes of securing a husband. I may be the only one but I’m not entirely comfortable with the propogation of a tradition based on the premise that the highest ambition a young girl can have is to marry well. Even today they’re more about flaunting the partner on your arm than the dress you’re wearing. The goal for the debs today is still (whether you want to admit it or not) to be the prettiest person with the prettiest partner. A lofty goal to be sure.

Add to the socially questionable the financialy irresponsible and the appeal of these events dims more. The truth of the matter is that no matter what you say the debs cost money and they cost too much of it. If you figure that there are one hundred couples spending a grand per couple, all in, on the night then each debs is worth one hundred thousand euro. People are defaulting on mortgage repayments that cost less than some people spend on dresses they will wear for the night and never again. Money. Well. Spent.

The practical argument in favour of debs, the one the shiny happy make, is that the debs is the last chance to relive your glory days with all your friends before you head off for college. I don’t know what kind of debs you went to but a lot of them involve sitting at a table of people who you no longer have anything in common with in a night filled with those polite, smiling silences that in an Austen novel somebody would fill with talk about the weather.

If you want to relive your glory days then do: throw on your best Abercrombie hoody and go drink in a field.

Oh the glory days.

“Most will recall it fondly as the best night they’ll never remember.”

By Sarah Clarkin

Arguments against the debs largely incorporate those of the Dail Mail variety: look at these young, South Dublin girls spending thousands on their dresses, who do they think they are? It must have cost week’s worth of the average industrial wage to achieve that nuclear orange glow! And as for the hair, the nails, the limo, the overpriced tickets to the below standard venues, what are they thinking? Some will continue this debate further still, dubbing the debs a throwback to the Celtic-Tiger era, and rendering them solely to blame for the spoilt, uncaring, life-owes-me-something attitude attributed to her cubs. Yet in the grand scheme of things, the debs are not something which we should be complaining about, and in some respects, they are really events which can be celebrated!

Debs can undoubtedly be expensive, but they are a once in a lifetime opportunity, and should be treated as such. For girls and boys alike, they mark the end of their school days and the beginning of another chapter, with a fitting splendour and majesty.

It may be the last time for years to come, most likely the last time ever, where all your classmates will be in the same room and the atmosphere is not something that can be easily recreated. As for the expense, for the girls it includes dresses, beauty accoutrements, shoes, bags and transport as well as the tickets (though the boys get off less lightly, with little more than the expense of hiring a tux and buying a corsage for their lucky date’s wrist). In other words, it can be done modestly. There is no rule which dictates that huge amounts need to be spent in order to have a good night, and in almost all of the cases, no one would notice anyway!

Which brings me to the final argument usually brought against debutante balls: the messy night it culminates in. In general, the excitement of the debs is so peaked that people do tend to consume more alcohol and there are more instances of puking into breakfast rolls than is often the case.

But even this is part of the fun! The girls go home with a ruined dress, the boys with a lost jacket, yet with them is a camera full of memories to help piece together the lost sections of the night. That walk home when everyone else in the country is rising for school and work, begging the milkman for a free pint because your purse/wallet is mislaid – this encapsulates the tainted essence of the debs.

The fun, the glamour, the expense, the up styles and false lashes, the descent into debauchery while dressed up as ladies and gentlemen, the false lashes stuck to your cheek, the hair pins stuck down the back of your dress… It will all never be experienced again.
For some, this is something to be thankful for. For many more, it will be for the rest of their lives the night they never forget – or perhaps the night they’ll never remember!