Rounding the corner of a bridal boutique in New York City, then-20-year-old Houston native Kittsie Klaes and her mother, Robin, spotted the wedding dress—a white satin Ysa Makino gown with a lace-and-rhinestone sweetheart bodice, its sparkle-splashed, poofy skirt an ice storm of bling—and knew it was the one. Klaes already had a matching bedazzled headband picked out. She was going to wear the totally fun, mother-approved dress to her debutante ball at the River Oaks Country Club.
Of course, all of her friends at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where Klaes was a junior (and yes, where Prince William met Kate Middleton) were confused when she invited them to the ball, set for December 2015. Klaes, student president of the university’s film studies program, could usually be found in jeans and funky glasses, working on scripts. “They were like, ‘What is this?’” she tells us while on a break from location scouting in Los Angeles, where she’s pursuing a master’s in film at the University of Southern California. “‘What are you doing?’”
There were jokes: Did she come with a dowry? Wasn’t this a bit antiquated? Historically, debutantes were presented as marriage-aged women of society, but that’s changed, explains Klaes. Today, she says, they’re about networking and celebrating women. In fact, she recently made a short documentary about debutantes in an aim to dispel the myths surrounding them—they’re not all prissy do-nothings.
For Klaes’s deb ball, her father flew 20 of her friends into town. The family’s house on Kirby Drive filled up with a sea of inflatable mattresses. “It was like something out of The Princess Diaries II,” Klaes remembers. The ball had the price tag to match, about $1,000 per head. She emerged with big hair and an even bigger dress—which flowed around her in a perfect pool, thanks to multiple fittings at Mia Bridal on Westheimer—before circling the room with her father, as the emcee announced “Kittsie Klaes, daughter of Daniel Earl Klaes.”
On a pedestal before hundreds of people, she performed the Texas Dip, an audacious curtsy that requires a great deal of thigh strength. With her nose touching her skirt, she stretched her satin-gloved arms out, long and swanlike, before rising without incident. That alone seemed reason to party.
After Klaes’s River Oaks debut came another one, in London at Queen Charlotte’s Ball, where she performed the ceilidh—“similar to line dancing,” she said—followed by the International Debutante Ball in New York City, an invitation-only event where she met descendants of numerous countesses and George Washington.
But her hometown debut was her favorite, Klaes says, because everything, of course, was bigger, including her mother’s beaming smile. “I’ve just never seen a human look more overjoyed.”