Join us as our ardent social chronicler Gordon Kendall recounts his very brief foray as a debutante escort in the Big 80s. Texas Dip included, so pull up a chair as we take an insider’s tongue-in-cheek look at the man behind the bow.
Last year, at an ordinary dinner party (remember those?), the evening took a rather extraordinary turn when I let it slip to all present that, yes, at one time, I had been an escort. All forks dropped to the plates at once. After the seconds of silence, I’m still not quite sure how I should interpret the guffaws of laughter that soon followed. “You?” and “C’mon, really?” are not affirming credits to any man’s masculine pride. Finally, after a bit of hemming and hawing, I fessed up to having been a debutante escort, which explanation seemed to have satisfied all those assembled for a time.
“So,” it was later asked, “how does that, you know, work? The whole ‘party thing’” Thus, began my wine-enhanced recount of my season being the unsung accessory elbow, an escort to a series of young women as they were introduced to…no pun intended…Society Texas. Although it has, indeed, been a few decades since I donned white tie in the name of chivalry and social custom. However, this elbow will remain anonymously tucked inside its cut-away coat sleeve out of respect to all involved and to make the whole event, just a little more dramatic. Wylie readers, however, may be able to guess a thing or two about the who’s, what’s, and where’s of my experiences, and we’ll leave them to that worthy enterprise. They might be right. Or not. My escort season seemed to end as quickly as it began, yet it was quite a whirlwind of activities.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT TEA
The life of an escort starts with something usually referred to as an “announcement tea.”. Who will be the upcoming season’s debutantes when the formal presentation will occur, and when the debutante’s individual parties will happen is decided. Often, I know some of the girls from our school days. As a sidenote, escorts for the girls are mentioned with about as much enthusiasm as saying, “Nice weather we’re having.” Then, everyone goes off and talks to someone they haven’t seen since last night’s other party, leaving the escort and deb to initially meet and get to know each other in preparation of “the season.”
If there are any untapped ideas for reality television left, I’d like to suggest Drama Debs, which would recount all the goings‒on that occur during each season. To help draft the pilot, here are other things about the people, places, and happenings the writers should consider. Will she be attractive? Will she be witty? Will you be handsome? Will you be charming? Hers and your faults of beauty or character don’t matter. It’s quite possible the escort and deb will not have known each other previously, so in the first few minutes, with so much at stake, it’s best to agree…to be agreeable with each other. Nothing more is required. The whole thing is “for real,” but only for the others involved. The concept of debs and escorts as players in a saga began much earlier before the first deposits on party venues were paid, before the first contributions to the symphonies, or operas, were put down. This isn’t the time to reinvent the ongoing wheel of societal expectations. Forget that one detail, and it’s going to be reality T.V. time, so watch out. It’s just about having a good time and how many things can you say that about? Hence, that open bar.
LET’S HAVE A PARTY, SHALL WE?
The girls’ families host a round of parties honoring the debutantes, to celebrate their debut. The themes vary, from Monte Carlo to a simpler fare, like, the State Fair. But, whatever the theme, simple or elaborate, it is the perfect setting for a terrific time for all the attendees to honor the debs.
These evenings happen across that state…evoking New York’s grandest Fifth Avenue hotels in Austin…recreating Versailles in Houston…70s Studio 54 discos twisting in Dallas…to Luaus hula-ing in Laredo, and beyond. You get the idea: The Texas Debutante Theme Party. Of course, no mention of the escort experience would be complete without mentioning this unique feature of coming out in the Lone Star State. After the Announcement Teas that start off these seasons, there are scores of separate parties as well. They are the enticing amuse-bouches, the tantalizers to prepare one and all for the main course, the grandest gala in the season’s grail of parties, The Presentation Ball.
These season openers come about when one, or several, debs and their families get together and throw some fete-tastic homage to…name your place and time… but think of Paris or French themes as Toujours Favoris. With that in mind, prepare for at least one Les Miz or Mardi Gras inspired to do in any given deb season, or get ready to do your own Can-Can come party time when it’s a Moulin Rouge Rallye, as these parties are called in France. Of course, gardens are always good ideas for these kinds of deb dances, too, but not just any old patch of dirt is party inspiring. They must be Italian Tuscan, or, of course, Provence de France in spirit to be worthy of the debs’ families’ attentions.
Considering the original purpose of the debutante party was to introduce young maidens to society, especially to suitable marriage candidates, you’d think Garden of Eden themes might be popular. Interestingly, but not likely intentionally, economically inflationary epochs, such as the 1950s and 1970s, remain popular themes. Just don’t expect casseroles and Chianti jug wine will ever be served no matter those parties’ homage decades. Costs-of-living be darned; these parties are about having fun and fun…as we know…takes a lot more, a whole lot, to make that happen. So, when it comes to themed deb parties, the sky is the limit to produce these one-night-only fun factories.
Once inside this combination theme park, high school cafeteria at the lunch rush, and rock concert events, what really happens? Dancing, naturally; eating certainly; queuing at bars, inevitably; gawking, a given. And what you will see. How to transform a relatively mundane country club or a generic hotel ballroom into these fantastically focused events? Just as there would be no reason for these parties without debutantes, there would be no way to carry out their themes without flowers. Not just demure arrangements are dotting the tables, but installations that could rival most of the annual floral output of Honduras. That amount will be just about right to hang from the ceilings, fill the corners, line the walkways, and compose huge arrangements surrounding the buffet tables, and flanking the dance floors…all perfect social media backdrop opportunities. The creativity of the florist and their sidekicks, and the lighting pros, know no bounds of checkbook when it comes to not just decorating such plain spaces but transforming them into entertaining environments.
Ultimately, these blooming extravaganzas of the debutante experience will wilt after they are often donated to local charities the following day, the food and drink consumed, and the band packed up. But, inevitably, it will be the memories of these themed parties that will inspire debs in later years to say to their own almost-deb daughters, “It’s up to you, My Dear, certainly, to pick the kind of party you want, but for my party, this is what we did…”
MAJOR GENERAL MOM
One and all will deny it, yet the debutantes’ mothers are really the show’s co-stars. They are the ones who sat through countless committee meetings, raised the most money, and hand-addressed the most envelopes. They also were the ones who ever so subtly, politely, but determinedly jockeyed for their daughters to be the jewels, the princesses, the whomever’s being asked to represent whichever group is presenting them. Mess with M.G.M. and you, Mr. Escort, could very well be escorted yourself…out. I’ve heard a few stories of guys who all of a sudden “had obligations” then disappeared from the stag line of escorts and landed into social oblivion. On the other hand, a debutante’s mother who likes an escort can indeed, rally the Oscar-clad crowd of other mothers on his behalf. That happened to me. One deb’s mother just happened to be quite the doyenne. What she said, went and so did I, from well-dressed nobody to hob-nob, because of her. Her David Webb jewels were medals earned from the social battles she’d fought and won to make everything happen, and I’m glad I was able to share in her success.
TERRIFYING TAFFETA & TUXEDO’S JUNCTION
The dress is as much a part of the party as the debutante herself making the coveted bow. So, what if it looks like an upside-down snow cone and costs as much as a nice car? What’s really fun, I hear, is when two debs choose the same style of dress. Rare, but possible. How that issue is resolved is way above my pay grade, but I’m sure it’s nothing that socially savvy mothers can’t work out with no hard feelings, right? As if. When it comes to the actual dress that will appear on the big presentation night, there’s not much you’ll have to worry about, besides not stepping on the huge thing, which is good, because you, Sir, have sartorial problems of your own. To wit.
Imagine having as many as fifteen different articles of clothing you will need to have on your body at once, from fiddly little button-like studs to the more familiar socks and shoes. Now imagine that each of these must be put on in a specific order and in a certain way. Then imagine having to walk, dance, carry things like programs and plates of hors d’oeuvres with all this free-spirited, high-maintenance merchandise attached to you. The first mishap is always with the shirt; trust me on this. “Pop,” “Pop,” “Pop,” go the studs right down the front of your shirt, and everyone might see how well, or not, that new ab routine is working for you. Clear tape and a plain white tee-shirt to your rescue. Not the one covered in logos and what-not sayings. The problems don’t end there. Even at winter events, you will burn up in these layers of wool, silk, and cotton. Think about water in article number sixteen, the hip-flask.
All dressed up and off you and the deb go. The whole evening will be one of both glamour and grandeur. Lucky you, if you even get to sit down…at all…to enjoy any of it. While everyone else is seated and eating, you and the deb will be backstage, waiting for them to get done, so you can get on with why you’re are there: the presentation. By the time you and the deb line up to get ready, you’re hot, exhausted, and that shirt…it’s always a stiff-as-steel shirt…and has started to come untucked from all the bending over to shake hands. According to some precisely determined order, the same one that says all debs are beautiful, but some go on stage before others, it’s showtime for you and your deb, with all eyes on you two.
Now, the time comes where it all comes together, so no pressure. Brave is the man who tries to tell the deb what to do, but, as she lowers herself to the floor, arms outstretched, mere seconds before her head goes forward into the white abyss of money that is her gown, you really, really hope she followed your invariable lead and laid off the open bar. In my days of escorting, yoga and Pilates were not the fitness phenomena that they are now, so debs today may actually be stronger than you, Sir. Don’t let your downward dog butt get kicked, just keep an eye on her, nonetheless. Help turn her wobble into a wow. Two well-timed hands at her waist might mean a Rolex on your wrist when it’s all over from appreciative parents. I’ve heard that actually happened: one escort received a gold and stainless TYVM. You may think it’s over after the bow, but that’s when it can get even more interesting.
We’ll leave it for the etiquette experts to ponder whether an escort is a date, in the “date-date” sense, or just a one-night standup guy. It’s good to get that sorted before all the partying because the deb’s actual date/boyfriend/almost fiancé might just have an opinion about the matter. Leave it to chance, and you’ve set yourself up for a ménage-a-trouble with the three of you. Inevitably, you will not see what she sees in him, the lout. You probably are more fill in the blank than he. He got there first. Don’t forget that and, hopefully, you and the deb will part at some point after the presentation with charming promises to keep in touch and not a terse: “She’s all yours, pal!” ringing in everyone’s ears.
Back to the dinner party that got this walk down memory’s runway started, the inevitable question was asked: would I let my own children do it, be a debutante or escort? My lack of both offspring and funds has already answered for me. So, what can I say? Except for a few evenings, this young man got the chance to play that suave character shown in so many films. So, to those, I’ll take my bow.