The Evolution of the Homecoming Mum

By:
Jenny Jurica
Photography By:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… no, it’s not quite the holiday season just yet, but it is the next best thing — high school football season in Texas!

You may have noticed local businesses showing their school spirit with painted windows and balloons arches, urging the home team to “Fight! Fight! Fight!” and declaring war on this week’s opposing team. There’s no doubt about it, high school football season is a big deal in Texas (“Friday Night Lights” ring a bell?) and often comes to a fevered pitch during homecoming week. 

Homecoming is a time for high school alumni to relive their glory days and reconnect with old friends. The lead-up to the main event also involves all sorts of activities for current students, like dress-up days, special pep rallies and culminates with the big football game, typically against a rival school or — better yet — a team that your school is sure to beat. 

For the big homecoming celebration, your date will commission a homecoming mum, which is a giant flower corsage that will be decorated with ribbons, bells and bows. It’s also common for parents to gift their daughter a mum, and in many school groups, girls will exchange mums with their team “big and little sisters.” But mums aren’t just for girls anymore. Guys have also jumped in on the action. What started as a simple garter in school colors worn around their arm has evolved into garters embellished with flowers and ribbons and often decked out in the same fashion as the girls’ versions. As with most things in Texas, bigger is always better, but this hasn’t always been the case when it comes to homecoming mums. Ironically, in the early ‘80s, when hair was huge, mums were smaller, seldom longer than your waistline — about the size of a garter mum these days, actually — and the flower was still real. 

A brief history of the homecoming mum

The homecoming mum is said to have made its first appearance in Texas in the 1930s at Baylor University and the trend quickly trickled down to Texas high school football. The early incarnations of a homecoming mum consisted of a small, fresh white chrysanthemum flower with a few short, unassuming ribbons and maybe a tasteful amount of glitter. The mum was pinned to a girl’s blouse and worn to the homecoming game and then to the dance that followed. This early version of the homecoming mum likely cost less than $5 and would later be dried, pressed and saved for posterity’s sake. 

Beginning in the ‘90s, the size of the homecoming mum and its adornments grew by leaps and bounds. Gone were the days of a modest, fresh flower corsage that could be easily pinned to a girl’s blouse. Enter: the giant silk homecoming mum that requires special structural implements, not to mention battery packs. 

More cowbell!

These days, a show-stopping homecoming mum might be affixed to a piece of plexiglass, complete with a neck strap, in order to withstand the weight of the decorations. The mum might cover the entire torso on the recipient, with ribbons and garlands reaching down to their feet. New styles pop up every year, like the one-shoulder design that resembles a very accessorized beauty pageant sash. Mums often have battery-operated Christmas tree lights, stuffed animals highlighting the school mascot, cowbells and other assorted noise-makers and more types of braided ribbons than a sailor has knots. For high school seniors in Boerne and elsewhere, predominately white mums with gold or silver accents are traditional. Today, a mum of this magnitude can cost several hundreds of dollars and (reportedly) up to $1,000 for the most extravagant. 

Homecoming mums have become so large and have caused such a commotion that some school districts have put a limit on who can wear their mums to school. Many schools have strict rules that limit the wearing of homecoming mums to only upperclassmen and for only select hours of the school day, due to the distraction that the giant, seizure-inducing, clanking apparati can cause during the school day. Here in Boerne, mums at school are permitted on the big game day.

Regional preferences

Depending on where in Texas you live, the size, shape and style of mums vary. For instance, in some parts of the state, the school’s colors are often completely abandoned in favor of the recipient’s personal color preferences. In other parts of Texas, students have yet to embrace the large and showy mums (or, perhaps they’ve come back full circle) in favor of more traditional, modestly-sized corsages. Mums reflect not only school spirit, but also hobbies and interests, with plastic trinkets identifying sports and clubs. Whataburger has even gotten in on the homecoming mum action by offering tutorials on their website for how to create a Whataburger-themed mum. They also claim to have created the longest mum at a whopping 18-feet in length.

On homecoming night, in stadiums all across the state, the lights will burn bright, illuminating the autumnal Texas skies, where decades-old homecoming customs are kept alive and well. Teens will proudly display their mums and a homecoming king and queen will be crowned, along with their court, as the marching band plays the soulful alma mater and fight song — just as it’s been done for generations. While so many other traditions have fallen by the wayside through the years, homecoming remains a time to make memories, feel pride for one’s school, show off your mum and enjoy that most special and anticipated Friday night of the year in Texas high school football. 

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