I first learned about the world of homecoming mums when I was wandering the aisles of a Houston Hobby Lobby with my friend Jenny and my college boyfriend, both native Texans. Suddenly, I turned into an aisle of giant (and I mean GIANT) corsagesque-things. "What are these?" I asked. (I was born in Texas, but I wasn't raised there, so I am not culturally Texan.) They looked at me with surprise and Jenny said, "Mums. Didn't you have these growing up?"
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Mums, it turns out, are a very specific tradition, popular only in Texas (and parts of Oklahoma) and are huge, ginormous corsages.
Since my fateful encounter with the Hobby Lobby mums, I always make a point to ask Texan women that I meet about their mum memories and almost always, they will email me a photo of themselves in high school, covered with a giant mum. And yesterday, one of these Texas friends sent me a link to a blog post by Lee Ann Lewis about mums, reminding me that for Texans, mum season is just now winding down.
As I have discovered in my casual sleuthing, not much is known about how, when, or why this tradition started, but popular oral history seems to date the tradition to around the 1950s. In the flush of post-war prosperity—and also probably because October and November are prime months for chrysanthemum blooms—high school boys began buying chrysanthemum corsages for their dates for homecoming. The chrysanthemums were decorated with ribbons, and certainly large, but since they were built around real flowers, relatively small. The blog Reporting Texas says that in the 1960s, these mum corsages cost about $3 each.
Then, Texas being Texas, things got bigger and a little crazy. The main flower transformed into one made out of silk ribbons, teddy bears were added, flashing lights, and yes, air horns. As far as I can tell, you can buy your date a pre-made mum, which can easily run to $200 or $300 dollars (or even $500), or your mom can make your date a mum. (Hence, the supplies I saw at Hobby Lobby.*) The mums are worn to school the day of the homecoming game. (The Houston Press blog described the increasingly huge mums as "An arms race gone mad.")
*I must have gotten a gleam of envy in my eye, because my college boyfriend, not a homecoming-game-attending sort of person, quickly walked away to look intensely at anything that was not the aisle of mum madness.
A triple mum from themumshop.com.
To quote my friend Sarah Rufca, a Texan and an editor for Culture Map Houston, who wrote to me about mums, "I can tell you I saw mums in high school so elaborate that the girls wearing them could have come to school naked and been totally covered."