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Monday 11 December 2023 Dublin: 7°C

Column The Debs is a bittersweet occasion – everything changes after it

The real importance of the end-of-school ritual is often overlooked, writes Kim Cadogan.

CINDERELLA MUST GO to the ball, right? Well, that’s the topic on most girls’ minds almost as soon as the Junior Cert is completed and they begin moving into the senior ranks of secondary school.

I remember impatiently waiting for the photo of all the older girls at their debs to be hung up in the hallway as soon as school commenced in September. Hours were spent scrutinising this picture, the local papers and of course, social networking sites to judge the dresses, hair, make up, tans and dates of everyone that cared to don a formal gown and attend the debs. I’m from small town Wexford and there’s precious little else to do, so saying the majority of girls take a huge interest in their debs is a gross understatement.

The dress

Unfortunately I wasn’t picked for my school’s grad committee (probably something to do with the fact that the word “budget” means nothing to me) but I still plagued everyone that was with my ideas. The run up to it was chaos, especially to snare both The Dress and The Boy for the big day – and not much else was discussed. The Leaving Cert almost took a back seat, much to the dismay of our teachers who were sick and tired of us interrupting their classes to enquire what time the bar would close.

“Have you got your dress yet?” became the typical morning greeting and the debate over if it was tacky to hire a limo was a prominent topic of conversation. I think we were so caught up in trying to out do each other style-wise, that we never realised that this really would be our last time in the same room together.


Although the debs is an age-old tradition I think it has changed drastically from its humble roots of introducing a teenage girl into society in a demure white dress and gloves. Some of the horror stories you hear about (and perhaps unfortunately witness) these days are shocking: people puking getting so drunk before the meal that they puke, brawls that result in a visit from the police and bloodstained dresses and the charming ‘telling your principal exactly what you think of them’. No vulgarities spared.

I went to a debs of a friend this summer and when everyone was seated, a teacher stood up to give the traditional speech of wishing the students luck in the future etc – or so we thought, until he launched into his tirade on the code of conduct expected from the students on the night like a Puritan giving the hell and brimstone sermon!


The college choices of the girls in my year were widely dispersed and thinking back, it still hadn’t hit me that I would never sit down at lunch with anyone I’d known for six years at lunch to drink soup and bitch about our French teacher. My thoughts were occupied with my plan to throw my dinner at any girl that had the same dress as me.

I don’t think most teenagers feel it at the time but the debs really is a bittersweet occasion; everything changes from that point onwards. I had completed the most important exam I’d ever have to do, I was moving to The Big Smoke to live with my friends and I wouldn’t have Mother Dearest to make me dinners and my Dad to drive me around, I was officially an adult. Something I had thought myself to be for years. But after the first tough month of college I realised how much I had previously misjudged the situation.

Kim Cadogan is a journlism student in Rathmines College. Her fashion blog is Honey, This Mirror Isn’t Big Enough For The Two Of Us.

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