Born and reared in Texas, having experienced the nostalgic bliss of my own high school homecoming (shout out, Austin High class of ’97!) and worn my own homecoming mum, I figured I knew all there was about these flower-and-ribbon corsages traditionally worn during homecoming season. But the last few years living here, Facebook browsing and pics from friends have shown me that a whole new level of mega-mums are popular with high school students in Plano – bigger, louder and more gaudy – because, Texas.
It sounds ridiculous when I explain this phenomenon to anyone not reared in Texas: You see, we take silk flowers, attach lots of ribbons, bells, stickers, feathers, lights (yes, LED lights are now a must), and sometimes add music (I kid you not, some people have started putting small speakers in them). We give them to our girlfriends, daughters, best friends or ourselves (‘cause gosh darn it, we’re worth it) and then parade all over school like cows with bells around our necks. Anyone hearing of this cultural phenomenon for the first time gives me the deer-in-the-headlights, very slow “blink, blink” look.
Chrysanthemums, or mums, were traditionally given by boys to their sweethearts as far back as the 1940s as a symbol of affection and school spirit during the college football season. The story goes that these wearable accessories originally began as a fraternity fundraiser. One guy’s mother was a florist, and she offered to make small chrysanthemum corsages that the young men could purchase to give to their girls.
The tradition caught on like wildfire and by the 1980s, live mum flowers had been replaced with the silk variety so the monstrosities would last and become reminders of the good times and bad fashion choices of our youth. It was also no longer a college tradition, but high school kids were now gifting and wearing the mums. Somewhere along the line, girls started giving their fellas a smaller garter version of a mum to be worn on his bicep.
Outrageously large mums are pretty much the trend today in Plano high schools. No doubt you’ve already run across a photo here or there of teenage girls wearing a mum wider than their small bodies and just as tall. Gone are the days of pinning a mum to a shirt like we did in high school; most are so large now they’re worn like massive necklaces.
They’re not only a visible reminder of school spirit but also a reflection of the wearer’s interests and, let’s be honest, a symbol of social status. Each girl’s hobbies, clubs, athletics and activities are reflected in her mum through layers of printed ribbons, miniature figurines, attached photos, charms, whistles, bubbles (blow bubbles during math class? Why not?), lights, bells and charms, making for a rather loud experience while walking school hallways on homecoming day. Mums can be so distracting that some teachers will ask students to take them off or remove the bells during class.
According to Jennifer Davis, a Plano Senior High School mom and mum maker, Plano schools have a few rules for their mums: Freshman may only have a single silk flower; sophomores can have two; juniors, three; and seniors, four (although many upperclassmen choose less flowers). Tiny stuffed animals such as bears – wearing drill team hats and football helmets – are popular as well. Senior girls usually don all-white mums rather than school colors, which has not always been the case.
It’s important to explain to anyone not from Texas that mums are worn to school on game day, as well as to the homecoming football game. They are not, however, worn to the homecoming dance. Kids exchange the more traditional fresh flower corsages and boutonniéres for the formal dance.
Students or their parents can make their mums, or buy them from high school booster clubs or a local mum maker. The Mum Shop in Plano has been selling mum supplies or pre-ordered mums since 1984. The cost adds up quickly, and one can expect to spend up to $200 for a large mum with all the bells and whistles, although a respectable one can certainly be made for under $100. Many kids and parents shrug off the cost, as girls tend to hang onto their mums for years, treating it as a keepsake and fond reminder of high school. Sadly, I grew up and threw mine away – something my mother probably wouldn’t have allowed had the sucker cost a couple hundred bucks back in my day.