What is a Cotillion and What Should You Wear?

What is a Cotillion and What Should You Wear?

March 21, 2023
By Katerina Katakalides

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What is a Cotillion?

A cotillion is a social dance that dates back to the 18th century. These formal, choreographed dances are typically held at the end of a ball to showcase what students have learned during their cotillion classes.

Depending on where you live, etiquette can be a very important part of society and culture. Teaching the next generation proper manners might be a priority, and if this is the case, you’ll probably find yourself attending cotillion classes. Cotillion classes are held for students of all ages and are traditionally grouped by age. For example, middle school students and high school students would be in separate groups, taught different skills, and learn different choreography.

A cotillion is held to showcase all of the new things that the students have learned over the multiple months of cotillion classes. This means that a cotillion is much more than a choreographed dance- it’s the culmination of many months of preparation, determination, etiquette classes, and of course, dance lessons!

History of Cotillion

Cotillons have been around for centuries and gained popularity in 18th century Europe and North America. This social dance originally included four couples dancing in a square formation, but has evolved over time to involve more young men, women, and couples.

Cotillions have changed a lot since they were first introduced to the United States in 1772. Instead of focusing on the couples who are dancing together, cotillions are now used to showcase individual students of all ages who proudly completed their cotillion classes. So… what do modern day cotillions look like?

Modern Day Cotillions Explained

Like most traditions, cotillions have changed quite a bit throughout the past few centuries. In fact, modern day cotillions look quite different from the 18th century dances that they used to be. Instead of only including four couples, modern day cotillions involve a larger number of young men and women who have completed their cotillion classes. These cotillion classes help teach the next generation proper etiquette when in a public setting. Although many parents teach this to their children as well, cotillion classes reinforce this in a public setting and help students become more comfortable among their peers.

The popularity of modern day cotillions is heavily dependent on your geographic location. Cotilions, as well as debutante balls, are a staple of Southern culture. If you consider yourself to be a southern belle, then you’ve probably attended at least one of these events. This brings up another important question: what is the difference between a cotillion and a debutante ball?

Cotillion vs Debutante Ball

Cotillions and debutante balls are both integral parts of Southern culture that many young women dream of experiencing. Although these formal events might seem similar, there are quite a few differences between them. While a cotillion revolves around instilling manners and teaching etiquette, a debutante ball is the formal act of introducing the students as new members of society.

One easy way to remember the main difference between a cotillion and debutante ball is that a cotillion showcases the skills someone has learned and a debutante ball showcases the person, themself. These events go hand-in-hand, as cotillion classes teach important etiquette skills that help debutantes transition from children into young women.

What do you Wear to a Cotillion?

A cotillion is a formal, classy event, so you should make sure your attire aligns with this. You should wear a modest, but beautiful floor-length dress to your cotillion. You should avoid sexy silhouettes, cutouts, and low necklines.

While you can usually wear any color to a cotillion, some cotillions will request that you wear ivory or white. These gowns are reminiscent of bridal dresses and represent the transition from childhood into adulthood. One of the most popular silhouettes you’ll see at a cotillion are ball gowns. These big, beautiful skirts will add eye-catching movement to the dances that you’ve worked so hard to learn throughout your cotillion classes.

The Rules of Cotillion

The rules of a cotillion are very similar to the rules of any formal event. You should be sure to dress appropriately by following the dress code, arrive on time, and be fully present during the event. This means staying off of your phone unless you’re taking photos (without flash.)

The dress code for every cotillion is different, so you should be sure to look up the specific attire requirements. Some cotillions will ask you to wear a specific color, such as white, a particular style of shoes, and a specific type of jewelry. If you have any questions regarding what to wear, consult the cotillion organizers and your classmates who are also attending.


How much does a cotillion dress cost?
The cost of your cotillion dress will depend on a few factors including the silhouette, style, and designer. Another thing to consider is whether you want to buy a new cotillion dress or shop secondhand. This is the biggest factor in the price point!

Where can I buy a cotillion dress?
You can shop for a cotillion dress both in person and online. Queenly, the largest formalwear website, has both new and preloved cotillion gowns available for purchase.

Shopping for your cotillion dress doesn’t have to be stressful! A queen like you deserves the royal treatment whether she’s buying a new prom dress online or shopping secondhand. At Queenly, we’ve committed ourselves to promoting sustainable fashion while making it affordable for everyone. Join our community of Queens who have listed outfits in their online closet. It’s as easy as signing up for a free account, snapping some pics, and uploading the details- that’s it!

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