Little Debbies

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Photo: Getty Images

On Monday night at the Waldorf=Astoria, 47 high-school- and college-age "women of distinction" from around the country and the world — including Arianna and Michael Huffington's daughter Christina — appeared at the grande dame of deb balls, the International Debutante Ball, which has occurred biennially since 1954. Everything was lavish and opulent: the girls' Vera Wang gowns, their lush tresses, the pink and silver décor in the hotel's grand ballroom, the silky sounds from longtime society band Lester Lanin.

No one seemed too bothered by this display of wealth against a backdrop recession (although, according to organizers, there was a modest drop-off in participants this year). As several of the debs we spoke to pointed out, a portion of the proceeds goes to a military charity, the Soldiers', Sailors', Marines', Coast Guard and Airmen's Club here in New York. Families paid $14,000 a table to watch their daughters be escorted across the ballroom floor and then formally bow before the crowd. Sometimes the music choices lent an unintentionally campy touch: A girl from Greece walked to the Olympics theme song, while one from the gaggle of Florida girls walked to "Margaritaville." Eleven girls talked to Tim Murphy about "debuting" in hard economic times, whether Texas girls do it better, and what "coming out" means in 2008.