Debutante-1

Ohio University student Sarah Milner (left) poses for a photo with a fellow debutante at the Queen Charlotte’s Ball held in September at Kensington Palace in London.

Photo courtesy of: Sarah Milner

Debutante-2

Sarah Milner is presented at the Queen Charlotte’s Ball in London.

Photo courtesy of: Sarah Milner

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OHIO student one of six U.S. women to debut at Queen Charlotte’s Ball


An Ohio University student is one of six young women in the United States selected to participate in a royal tradition that dates back to 1780.

Sarah Milner, a junior studying political science and pre-law, traveled to London in September to participate in the Queen Charlotte’s Ball as a debutante. Dubbed one of the most prestigious and elegant events in London society, the Queen Charlotte’s Ball hosts and honors young women from throughout the world for their academic, professional and charitable achievements. It was an experience of a lifetime, as Milner described, and an opportunity to gain new cultural perspectives. 

Established by King George III in 1780 to honor his wife, the ball’s namesake, for her birthday, the event’s original purpose was to debut young women into London’s high society. Today, Queen Charlotte’s Ball serves as an opportunity to celebrate young women while raising money for charity.  

Once only an event to honor debutantes exclusively from royal families, the Queen Charlotte's Ball is now open to non-royalty. Milner was invited to interview for a position in the ball by a former debutante and family friend from her hometown of Dayton, Ohio. 

“I honestly didn't think I’d have a chance, seeing as this was my first ball, but with nothing to lose, I decided to give it a try and interview,” Milner explained. “I was so surprised and excited when the committee in London contacted me and accepted me into the tradition.”  

This was Milner’s first ball as well as her first opportunity to travel abroad. She attended the event with her mother and a friend. 

Milner was presented alongside 20 other debutantes, ages 17 to 20, from England, Germany, Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Nigeria and Malaysia. She was among six participants from the United States and the only debutante from Ohio. 

Upon arriving in London a week prior to the ball, the debutantes attended crash courses on etiquette, communication and fashion. They were schooled in topics that ranged from how to dress and interact with those at the ball, to how to network, apply makeup, walk in high heels, wear tiaras, curtsey and dance. 

“When we were in London, we visited Wartski Jewelers and were taught about the art of wearing tiaras. We saw the most incredible pieces of jewelry worn by British royalty; I even got to try on Queen Victoria’s tiara,” Milner said. “My favorite part of it all was seeing a necklace by a designer from New York City. It was like seeing a piece of home. I loved how it represented our country.” 

The morning of the ball, the debutantes arrived at the studio of British bridal designer Emma Victoria Payne and were given custom-made couture gowns, which were auctioned off at the end of the ball. Proceeds from the auction benefited SOS Children’s Villages International, a non-governmental and non-denominational organization that advocates for children’s rights and works to ensure that every child has a loving home.

After receiving their gowns, the debutantes were turned over to a team of beauticians who styled their hair – complete with tiaras – and applied their makeup. 

Looking like royalty, the debutantes began their procession to Kensington Palace where the ball was held.

While in the past debutantes would be presented to the king or queen, today the debutantes are presented to the ball’s guests. Each debutant curtsies in front of the 6-foot-tall Queen Charlotte cake, a tribute to the event’s origins. In one of the highlights of the evening, the cake is cut with a ceremonial sword by the young woman selected as Deb of the Year. The titled is awarded to the debutante who demonstrates the most integrity and dedication while fundraising and preparing for the ball; this year’s ball was unique because two debutantes were awarded the title. 

For Milner, her first, and likely only, ball was a life-changing experience. 

“I was able to meet so many new people and gain a great new understanding of culture,” she explained.

After receiving her undergraduate degree, Milner plans on attending law school and pursuing a future in law and public policy. She said she met with a law firm from Washington, D.C., and was offered an internship. 

“This ball just opened so many doors for me,” she said.