LORELAI: [A debutante ball] is like animals being up for bid at the county fair
A county fair is an North American term for an agricultural show, with the main focus being on livestock and animal husbandry, although other types of contests and entertainment will usually be on offer also. A county fair is one organised by a particular county, in contrast with a state fair, and will generally be smaller and more rural in character.
LORELAI: Rory, do you know what a coming out party says? RORY: It says I’m a woman now. LORELAI: No. It says, ‘Hi, I’m Rory. I’m of good breeding and marriageable age, and I will now parade around in front of young men of similarly good breeding and marriageable age so they can all take a good long look at me.’
Originally, becoming a debutante was a marker that a young woman was old enough to be married, and part of their purpose was to display her to a select circle of eligible bachelors, with the hope that one of them might marry her.
These days, few expect a teenager to get married – as Rory says, they are usually seen as a celebration that a girl has reached a certain level of maturity, and provide a chance to show off her appearance, style, and accomplishments. (Emily does love to show Rory off, and is given few chances to).
Lorelai is being a bit old-fashioned in her views, although she’s not exactly wrong either, as social events such as a debutante ball do give opportunities to meet people of a similar age and background, which might one day lead to something more. Of course, that could happen at any social function. It’s not as if girls are kept hidden away from the world until they make their debut any more.
Lorelai’s ideas would have been forward-thinking in, say, 1930, but seem a bit quaint for 2001. Her feminism always seems to be a generation or two behind the times.
RORY: Because you should’ve seen the look on Grandma’s face when she asked me. It’s just really really important to her . . . Now if it’s that important to her, and it’s not that important to me, then why shouldn’t I do it?
A key difference between Rory and Lorelai comes up again. If someone she loves wants her to do something, and she doesn’t absolutely hate the idea, Rory will usually do it, whether it’s go golfing or sign up for a debutante ball. Lorelai’s response to her parents’ requests is usually, “Why should I?”, rather than “Why shouldn’t I?” (she wouldn’t even go to her relative’s funeral).
Lorelai is mystified by Rory’s desire to please her grandparents, but she has learnt her lesson from the fight they had over golf. This time she supports Rory’s decision completely, doing everything she can to help (albeit with lots of snarky comments).
LORELAI: I swear, there is nothing in the world my mother is better at than getting someone to agree to something that in any other universe, they would never ever consider … I am still convinced she had something to do with Lily Tomlin doing that movie with John Travolta.
Lorelai is referring to the 1978 romantic drama Moment by Moment, directed by Jane Wagner. It stars Lily Tomlin as a wealthy middle-aged Beverly Hills socialite, and John Travolta as a young drifter. He becomes infatuated with her, and they embark on a rocky May-December romance. The film was widely panned by both critics and audiences. It remains a camp classic to this day – exactly the sort of film Lorelai couldn’t resist watching.
RORY: I went out onto the patio. LORELAI: Ugh, Rory, that’s like accepting the position as the drummer in Spinal Tap.
Spinal Tap is a fictional English heavy metal band created by American comedians and musicians Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer. They first appeared on a 1979 sketch comedy pilot called The TV Show, but are best known from the critically-acclaimed 1984 mockumentary film, This is Spinal Tap, considered one of the best films of the 1980s. The heavy metal fan and comedic Lorelai must surely love it.
Spinal Tap’s fictional history includes a succession of drummers, all of which have died in strange circumstances, such as a “bizarre gardening accident”, “choking on someone else’s vomit”, two suffering spontaneous combustion on stage, and one death a mystery police thought better to leave unsolved.
Lorelai’s saying that Rory was doomed the minute she went out on the patio.
VIVIAN LEWIS: Why don’t you present Rory there? EMILY: Oh . .. uh . . . Well, I don’t know. Isn’t it a little late? SUNNY: Oh please. For Emily Gilmore, I’m sure they’ll bend the rules.
Generally you’d need to apply for a debutante ball several months in advance, and commit to a ten to twelve week course of dancing and etiquette lessons in preparation. It’s more than a “little late”, and they won’t be “bending” the rules for Emily Gilmore, they’ll be smashing them to pieces!
Naturally rules are only for mere mortals, not for the glorious Gilmore girls. In this case, it’s practical for the show, because it cuts down months of ball preparation (snigger) into less than two weeks.
The Daughters of the American Revolution really do hold debutante balls. They are often held on patriotic dates, and as this episode takes place in September, the ball might be held around the date of Constitution Day, which is September 17. In 2001, it was a Monday, but the ball could be held the following Saturday. This is also around the date of the Fall Equinox, giving the ball a Harvest Festival feel, as if the young girls are ready to be “gathered” or “picked”.
In real life, the DAR chapter for Hartford is called the Ruth Wylls Chapter. It was founded in 1892, making it one of the oldest chapters. It has over 50 members.
We already know that Emily is a member of the DAR, which means that she is a direct descendant of someone involved in the American Revolution, meaning Lorelai and Rory are eligible to join too. In real life, the easiest way to join the DAR is to have a blood relative who’s already a member, as your ancestry is proven. This becomes a plot point later in the show.
A debut is the formal introduction of a young upper-class girl or woman to society. In the US, girls usually make their debut between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. The first debutante ball in the US was held in 1817, in Savannah, Georgia.
SUNNY: She looks just like Lorelai, doesn’t she? NATALIE SWOPE: The eyes. VIVIAN LEWIS: The nose. SUNNY: Walk around sweetie … I just wanna see the walk. Lorelai had such a specific walk.
VIVIAN LEWIS: Fast.
Emily’s friends eagerly examine Rory, this seems to be first time they have seen Lorelai’s daughter, at least for many years. It’s also the first mention by another character of Lorelai’s fast paced walking, possibly one of the factors helping her stay slim. (I don’t think Rory has inherited it, to me her walking seems normal paced, or even slightly slow for a young healthy person).