Mums gone Wild
Originally Published - October 2012
Soon homecoming season will kick off throughout the Lone Star State and in Southlake, the Dragon faithful will turn out in force to cheer on the eight time State Champs at the annual tradition-filled game on Friday, October 12th. In typical celebratory fashion, there will be pep rallies, a parade and a dance, the crowning of a King and Queen and of course, we’ll play a little football. Last but not least, there will be “mums.” We don’t mean the frothy blooms from your garden either. We mean mammoth, gargantuan, unabashedly gaudy spreads of silk chrysanthemums bedazzled with massive amounts of long flowing ribbons and trinkets of every imaginable variety.
Oddly enough, in many European countries the chrysanthemum is known as the death flower. Throughout Belgium, Italy, Spain, and France the mum is almost exclusively used on graves as a memorial. In Korea the feathery flower is known as a sign of lamentation and grief. But here in the US the fall blossom is an expression of positivity and cheerfulness leading to thousands of the silk creations being fashioned or purchased every year. On these trendy annual displays of football affection, less is definitely not more, the more bling, glitz, and glitter you have the better.
Back in the day, the homecoming mum started out as a real flower with perhaps a few ribbons attached and a football player’s number fashioned from pipe cleaners sticking up from the center. If you were very fortunate it took two straight pins to affix the delicate six-inch creation to your shoulder. Even then there was a lively competitive spirit between those who received the much sought after treasure. Fourth generation native Texan Lee Ann Lewis writes about all things related to our great state including a commentary dedicated to this iconic tradition. Lee Ann wrote in her widely read blog, “The best part came when you arrived at the stadium and had a chance to size up the mums worn by your friends. Did she have a single mum? A double? A triple? There has always been a great deal of “mum envy” at every Homecoming game.” Lee Ann laughingly added that after the flower began to brown they would dip it in melted Gulf Wax and hang it on the bedroom wall, “Henceforth it became a trophy that said to visiting girlfriends, ‘Yes ladies, that was the year I bagged a really nice one.”
What started out as a simple token of affection given in days gone by has morphed into a cottage industry that has Moms throughout Texas sporting glue gun burns working feverishly through the night trailing rhinestones and feathers as they hurriedly make one more trip to the local craft store for supplies. No longer does being a freshman necessarily mean one flower, sophomore two flowers and so on. The field is wide open and only the imagination, and perhaps the wallet, limit mum size. An average mum can run anywhere from $80.00 all the way to several hundred.
If you don’t have the creative skills necessary to craft a homecoming mum yourself it’s time to turn to the experts. Crystal Duermeyer, a floral designer at the Southlake Tom Thumb store, has been making mums for local homecomings for the last ten years. “I’ve been making flowers here for so long that people ask for me by name. I think I probably made 150 mums last season but I’d love to hit over 200 this year.” She started her design career in high school when she was working part time at the local Winn Dixie. “I made them for friends, then friends of friends, and word just spread.” Over the course of her career Crystal guesses, “I think I’ve made maybe 1,500 or more. It’s funny but I never kept track.”
When Crystal firsts talks with someone about designing the ultimate homecoming sign of affection she asks about the activities the wearer is involved in, sports, band, etc., what grade level, budget, any special items they want included. Creating the perfect mum is so much more than the finished appearance; it’s a personal statement about the wearer. “The last four years or so everything has gotten even more unique and personalized,” Crystal said.
Bringing a glow to your mum with lights has become a popular addition in the last few years as well. “We started out using Christmas twinkle lights, than LED lights became all the craze and now it looks like fiber optics will be big this year,” Crystal laughed. “It’s always something new.” The over-sized structure of today’s creations leaves room for battery packs to power not only the lights but also a hidden device cued up and ready to play the couple’s favorite song upon demand.
Using a variety of raw materials is also paramount to creating the perfect mum and Crystal has used some unusual supplies throughout the years. “I remember a garter I made for a guy once who loved Legos so his girlfriend wanted to incorporate them into his design,” Crystal recalled. “I put Lego people in the middle instead of animals and the letters of their names that ran down two of the ribbons were made completely out of Legos. That was pretty unique.”
Kim Slavik, a local Southlake Mom who has been making highly sought-after creations since her son was in the 4th grade, believes, “A mum is all about highlighting a young ladies’ accomplishments. It becomes kind of like a walking scrapbook.” For the past 12 years students have been flocking to Kim for the pleasure of having a “Slavik Custom Mum.” “I grew up in Arlington and I was on the drill team so I knew all about the culture of homecoming.” When playing Bunco with a group of Moms in her neighborhood Kim was shocked to find that none of them knew what the fall ritual was all about. “Southlake has a large population of people who aren’t Native Texans so everything was new to them,” Kim said, “I remembered how I felt when I got my Senior mum and I just caught the bug again and started making them.”
Just like Crystal gathers information about who will be receiving the final flower, Kim has a system for discovering the hopes and dreams of her clients and displaying the reality of those thoughts on the final product. Kim devised a 12-page questionnaire, “Kind of a therapy tool for a relationship.” She laughed. Both women agree no trinket or object is off limits when decorating the center or the flowing ribbons. Kim often uses a tiny stuffed animal of the breed of a favorite pet and little cars, cellphones, footballs, hockey sticks, pom poms, and photos are always popular. “I use a lot of Christmas ornaments,” Kim said. Crystal agreed, “Christmas ornaments are always popular. I’ve used Diet Coke bottle caps to show a love of the soda, little kid’s wooden alphabet letters, just about anything you can imagine.” Often people will bring in their own special trinkets for these artistic women to add to the creation.
The yards and yards of decorative ribbons themselves have a function as well as a beauty factor. The names of the students are merrily skipping down the shiny streamers in glittering fashion as well as special trimmings purchased to represent sports and activities. “You want the ribbons to be packed tightly,” said Crystal. “So the person’s body doesn’t show through. The more ribbons the merrier, it’s cool if she is sitting at the game and keeps discovering new strips. It’s like looking for hidden treasure.” Kim mentioned that more colorful accents are now showing up in today’s mum. “Girls love to add something that compliments their room so when they hang it up their mum matches their decor.”
At an average weight between 12 and 15 pounds, it takes a strong nail to hang one of these behemoths on the wall, too. The days are definitely gone when Mom used a straight pin or two to anchor the flower to your shirt. Most of the huge displays worn by female students today are hung from the neck with a fairly stout ribbon or cord of some kind like a sort of popularity sandwich board. Often you’ll see these giant mums walking down the bleachers with only a head and feet showing, like an animated wind-up doll. This year Crystal said she is working on a design for a nine flower construction that covers front and back and is literally worn over the shoulders with double straps on each side, “I think this one will probably weight close to 30 pounds.”
Both Mum Masters enjoy the feeling of emotion connected to this long-standing tradition. “Everyone deserves a pretty mum to wear at Homecoming,” said Crystal. Kim laughed, “It’s the way the kids react that I love so much. They love to come and help me build. Even those without dates love to create one, it’s more about the mum than the date.” She laughed, “I volunteer my time and they supply all the materials. It’s my way of keeping the Texas tradition alive.”
“Protect the Tradition” has long been a motto of Dragon football and the iconic “Homecoming Mum” is definitely a tradition worth protecting. Remember, only one person can be homecoming queen, but everyone can wear a mum fit for royalty.