Mums the word during LHHS Homecoming Week

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By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM

The Homecoming mum was once a simple flower pinned to a dress. It has since blossomed into something much more.

Days and often weeks before the Homecoming Dance, the mess of ribbons and plastic ornaments that will make this elaborate corsage are specifically selected and arranged. It will be, for the high school student that wears it on the night of the dance, a matter of highly personal expression.

The mum for McKenzie Laas, Class of 2018, includes a special ribbon this year for her involvement in FFA, and another for the drill team. There is a cowgirl hat in the flower, and the whole thing is covered in glitter, “because that’s just my personality,” she says. “It’s big, it’s loud, it’s got a ton of bells. It’s just a Texas way of showing I’m excited for football Homecoming.”

You can pay someone to make the mum, she says, and many do— but “if you make them yourself, you can make them better. If you pay someone, they don’t know you.”

Some mums are short. Others long. A few, like the five-foot-tall mum shaped like Texas for a Dallas girl that went viral this year, demand budgets in the hundreds. Most cost less than $60.

All have the power to transform even the quietest outfit into a colorful bonanza of school pride.

Jennifer Bray, a florist by trade and a professional mum-maker in Liberty Hill, has made every kind there is.

Her backyard workshop in a converted storage shed is neatly organized into work tables and cabinets, full of sewing kits, ribbons, letters, and racks of finished mums. This is how it looks every fall when she switches gears from her usual home decorating business.

When a customer puts in a request for a corsage made on a $60 budget, she knows instinctively how much of the $0.20 per foot ribbon to use versus the $0.60 per foot ribbon.

Her first year in Liberty Hill, she made 25. Then last year she made almost 100. By week’s end, she anticipates her final count will go over 150.

The last two weeks before homecoming, which is Friday, are always peak season, she says.

“I’ll spend hours and hours working, and my family will know it’s a sandwich night. Momma’s not cooking tonight,” she said.

Bray’s work is as much about the social element as it is about the actual craftsmanship of the mum. She talks with the parent to find out what would best express their daughter, or what specific details they might like to see included. She asks them to coordinate with the parents of their daughter’s date, so she can match the mum to the garland — a kind of boy’s equivalent typically worn on the wrist.

Added to the mix, every mum-maker has their own style, Bray says.

“I’ve got that East Texas flair, and I think people around here like that,” she said.

LHHS senior Brooklynn Jones’ mum was made by her mother, who has also made mums for several of her friends.

“She’s really extra and likes things big and fancy,” Laas said. “She makes them really long and voluminous and thick, with all these different ribbons.”

Trends and fashion from the outside world also play a role in defining the look seen across the mums of a given year and community.

When Bray began her mum-making enterprise five years ago out of her boutique in East Texas, heart-shaped prints were popular in mums, just as they were in the rest of the design world.

Now she says hearts have largely faded, and taking their place is chevron — a kind of zig-zag pattern.

“You see it on everything, curtains, shirts, showers,”— and mums, she said. “In three years it might be a houndstooth print, who knows?”

As a longtime mum-maker, Bray also has the unique perspective to see changes year to year that might not be visible to others.

The popularity of certain colors of ribbon tends to fluctuate with their prices and availability. Purple became more popular when its old variety was overtaken by a new, “richer” purple. Gold, too, has come more into play as “softer” golds have become more affordable.

And budgets, too, tend to fluctuate on the whole year-to-year. Last year for instance it appeared that many families had tightened budgets for their mums, Bray says. She thinks it has to do with Homecoming having been held in September, instead of October, and families were still feeling the pinch from back-to-school expenses.

Zooming out, more changes in mum styles can be seen on the scale of generations.

Despite the growing visibility of long, glittery and “extra” mums, Bray, 35, says mums on the whole have actually become more restrained.

It has also become much more common to include flashing light strands in the designs, which were previously rare and “over-the-top” when Bray graduated from high school.

“Girls are more practical these days,” she said. “If it’s going to pull on their shirt, and they can’t wear it on their uniform, they don’t want it.”

Before she can go on, she is interrupted by the appearance of a woman in the shop’s doorway. The woman is a client of Bray’s, a local mother whose daughter is going to the dance with a friend. It is not a date, she explains, “I’m not ready for them to grow up.”

Still, she and her daughter both wanted a mum.

As Bray hands over the finished order, the mother turns it over with an appreciative inspection.

“Oh,” she says, “this is so beautiful.”

Waylon@LHIndependent.com

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