Forty-seven young women donned white gowns and greeted guests at the International Debutante Ball, a holdover from an era when the daughters of the upper crust were presented to society as a preface to meeting suitable mates.
The debutantes at The Waldorf-Astoria hotel on Monday included European aristocrats and scions of American families from the Social Register. That any perceived the affair as a stepping-stone to marriage was improbable.
Maria Irini Rizos, of Corfu, Greece, a descendant of Venetian nobility that ruled Corfu for 400 years, said she participated in the ball because "I want to meet international friends and have contacts with people from different countries."
Suzanne Tufts, a New York consultant to nonprofit organizations, whose daughter Abigail was making her debut, called the event "a beautiful and meaningful coming-of-age ceremony in an increasingly global world."
However, debutante balls were once seen as an introduction to society and the marriage market.
"It used to be that if you weren't at least engaged within the year following your debut you were embarrassed," said Letitia Baldrige, a recognized authority on etiquette who was Jacqueline Kennedy's White House social secretary. "Your family sent you abroad to get rid of you for a while."
But Judith Martin, the syndicated columnist known as Miss Manners, said in an e-mail that debutantes today "are not meeting local society but a collection of strangers, and they are probably not looking for husbands while they are in, or barely out of, their teens."
Today's debutante is more likely to be looking for friends on social networking Web sites.
One debutante boasted a strong internet affiliation: Christina Sophia Huffington. Her mother Arianna Huffington is co-founder of the political Web site Huffingtonpost.com.
Arianna Huffington did not return a telephone call placed through a spokesman for comment.
The International Debutante Ball was founded in 1954 by Beatrice Dinsmore Joyce. Her niece Margaret Stewart Hedberg now organizes the event.
"They're all so smart and they're in school and they're planning great careers," she said of the debutantes. "They do it to have a happy memory and get out of the sneakers and sweatsuits for five minutes."
A debutante's family pays $14,000 for a table as well as thousands of dollars for couture gowns, hairdressers and related expenses.
Each deb is paired with a civilian escort in white tails and a military cadet in a dress uniform. Proceeds from the ball benefit the Soldiers', Sailors', Marines', Coast Guard and Airmen's Club, a charitable organization that provides accommodations to military families visiting New York.
The International Debutante Ball is one of dozens of debutante balls around the country.