The Festa de Debutantes is the first milestone for young girls in Brazil. Similar to America’s Sweet Sixteen, Brazilians celebrate girls reaching 15 years of age and the celebration comes with deep-rooted traditions, customs, and expectations. Like a wedding, planning can start months in advance and the parties range from simple gatherings to lavish events.
The word debutante has its origins in French and refers to girls who have reached an age of maturity and are considered young adults. Historically, when a girl became a debutante, she was old enough to marry and the purpose behind the parties was to show off the girl to potential suitors and their families. Although this conservative custom has died out in Brazil, the tradition of having the party has remained and has become a significant event in a young girl’s life. The parties are specifically for girls – young men don’t celebrate the same milestone.
The parties are carefully planned and tailored to the girl’s tastes. Party themes vary from a fancy dress or traditional party, to princess theme or modern dance-style party. Once the girl has chosen her theme, usually the parents or family organise the event, sometimes with the help of a professional event planner. Every last detail is considered from the design of the invites and food choices to the dress and party colour theme. The level of planning is often on a par with a wedding, with some girls opting for white or pastel colour, ballgown style dresses similar to those of a bride. Arriving at the party in style is often an important element, with a limousine being the most popular choice, yet some may even arrive in a helicopter.
The party is centered around certain traditions that are usually followed, although the choice is left up to the debutante. Traditionally, the girl enters with her dad before blowing out the candles. Then, she has the first dance with her dad or another male family member. Following her will be the first couple of a group of 15 couples that join her on the dancefloor, one by one, to dance the valsa, which is a kind of ballroom style dance. The 15 young men that dance with 15 of the girl’s friends will often be the debutante’s family, friends, or even cadetes (young gentlemen) who are hired especially for this purpose. After, the debutante may change her clothes to join in the after-party with music, food and a more relaxed atmosphere.
The Festa de Debutante is an incredibly important party for girl’s who are considered to have reached maturity at the age of 15 in Brazil. The significance remains of equal importance to both the young women and the family, and the event is celebrated throughout Brazil.