A tradition mummified

Homecoming mums and garters continue local tradition, spark conversation

Elisabeth Siegel

Twas the Friday before the Homecoming dance and all through the school, the sound of bells and the swish of blue and white ribbons jammed the halls. The once tame tradition has grown into an elaborate rite of passage for Texas teens to show off their interests and exude school spirit. Mum’s the word — a large arrangement of chimes, streamers, charms and buttons sewn together onto a fake chrysanthemum flower.

On Wednesday, Sept. 23, junior parents set up a table in front of rows and rows of mums. Most students hang them on their lockers and then attach them to their backpacks once the day of the game arrives.

“The purpose of mums and garters is to really cultivate the school spirit during Homecoming week,” senior Bridget Wang said. “I think it’s just a really fun way to show school pride, continue traditions and participate in spirited activities.”

The mum tradition started in Texas in the 1930s as a simple corsage and some ribbons. According to The Mum Shop, the designer of custom mums and garters that the school uses, the larger, more elaborate designs popped up in the 1970s. Since then, they have only gotten bigger.

But some moms are not sure they understand the mum tradition.

“I’m not from Texas so this has been a very new and kind of weird tradition for me,” Tiffany Loftus, a junior mom who helped with mum and garter distribution, said. “I do like that the mums at ESD seem a little more simple than some others I’ve seen where they cover your entire body — it seems like the idea is to make each one bigger than the next. I love that at ESD everyone looks essentially the same with the personalization coming from sports or other extracurricular charms.”

Usually, male dates will order a mum for their female dates, and female dates will order a garter for their male dates. Garters are smaller, typically less flashy versions of mums.

“It’s just a really fun way to show school pride, continue traditions and participate in spirited activities.”

Bridget Wang

“I usually put my garter on my backpack, but it makes too much noise,” senior Sanders Chipman said. “There’s not really a [purpose to garters]; it’s kind of like a ceremonial thing. The only reason [my date and I] got each other a mum and a garter was because it was our last year here. If this was junior year I wouldn’t have gotten one.”

Mums and garters are not cheap. Underclass garters cost $58 and underclass mums cost $70, while senior garters cost $69 and senior mums cost $81. This price doesn’t include extra charms and trinkets, which can range from $0.50-$7 each.

“It’s at a reasonable price if they still want to make a profit while using all of these materials to make our mums,” Wang said. “I think if you have a date, it’s [worth it] to participate in the tradition, so I understand the appeal.”

According to an Nov. 1 poll of 160 students and faculty, 34 percent think mums and garters are unnecessary. But a portion of the money from mum and garters funds the Spring prom. If they were discontinued, the school would have to find a way to make up those funds.

“I would be open to somebody saying ‘you know what, it’s time to stop this,’” assistant head of upper school Jeff Laba said. “I’m not suggesting that we [get rid of mums], I’m saying that if somebody were to bring it up, they would find a favorable audience. But I think that would have to come from the students, not from the administration… I would not want to come in and take away somebody’s tradition, especially one that’s based sort of in their geographical area.”

Even though students only wear the mums for one day, they will often last longer. Many who choose to participate in the tradition will keep their mums and garters and hang them in their rooms for years afterward.

“I’ve only had two mums, but I do have them in my closet and they sort of just hang there,” Wang said. “I think it’s a really cute memory. It helps me remember all the parts of the Homecoming experience.”

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