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Texas Homecoming Mums: A Tradition COVID-19, Hopefully, Can't Keep Down

A girl smiles, wearing an elaborate blue mum around her neck.
Keren Carrión
Maya Gonzalez, 13, the daughter of Shannon Gonzalez, sports her fifth specialized mum. It's decked out with her favorite color and stuffed animal, and her initials, lights and feathers.

Fall in Texas means high school football and a statewide tradition: the homecoming mum. The much-loved, elaborate accessories are worn to school homecomings. This year, as COVID-19 delays or changes festivities, how is the mum business coping?

For those who have never seen a Texas homecoming mum, Dallas photographer Nancy Newberry explains:

“I describe them as a corsage that’s exploded," Newberry said. She spent years photographing high schoolers across Texas wearing their mums.

Imagine a big artificial chrysanthemum corsage, cover it with a few feet worth of ribbons, braids, beads...maybe even a stuffed animal or framed photo. Decades ago, the tradition started as a simple flower boys would give their homecoming dates.

Today, Newberry says “mums have become these giant, elaborate pieces of folk art."

Preferences have also changed. Gina Waters, head of the Texas State Florists’ Association, originally got her start in the flower business making homecoming mums with fresh chrysanthemums. But, nowadays, she says florists rarely get orders for them.

“Ten years ago, everything switched to the artificial mums,” she said.

Not having to worry about fresh flowers opened up the mum game to crafty entrepreneurs. Many mums are now created by specialty mum makers, who sell their wares on their own websites or on sites like Etsy.

Two elaborately decorated mums are displayed in the middle of the store.
Keren Carrión
Mum’s and Kisses, a store in Crowley, TX., makes traditional mums for high school homecoming events.

The (Literal) Growth Of Mums

In typical Texas fashion, these artificial mums keep getting bigger.

“We’ve gotten into some pretty huge mums,” said Shannon Hart Gonzalez, who runs Mums and Kisses, a custom homecoming mum shop outside of Fort Worth. Her modest mums cost $30, while more complex creations could cost up to $500.

Her most extravagant mum of the year? “Currently I have an order for what we’re calling the mum dress,” she said. It’s four feet wide, and includes more than 19,000 rhinestones, 13,000 faux pearls and a revolving photo frame.

“This is something that completely engulfs the girl on the front and the back is a sash that goes from her shoulder all the way to her hip,” Gonzalez said. "Then the streamers go from her hip all the way to her ankle."

From Hobby To Blooming Business

Gonzalez started making mums for friends about 15 years ago. Then, in 2016, her son needed a mum for his homecoming date. When she saw the prices, she thought “I can do better than that. I just started an online store and they took off from there,” she explained.

She also needed the income, and it was something she — and mum makers like her — could do from home. Though Gonzalez has expanded. A few years ago, she built a storefront and workshop next to her home.

The business has been successful. In normal years, Gonzalez says Mums and Kisses can sell as many as 400 orders. While she was mum about her exact earnings (pun intended), she said she covered most of her son’s first year of college tuition — at a private school.

Shannon Gonzalez grabs a piece of ribbon while working on a mum.
Keren Carrión
Shannon Gonzalez, owner of Mum’s and Kisses in Crowley, TX, works on a mums in the workshop at her store, on Wednesday, Oct.7, 2020.

And Then...2020

"When COVID hit it was a shocker,” Gonzalez admitted. “We were hoping that things were going to be over quickly, and that it wouldn’t affect our mum season at all. But, unfortunately that’s not how it went.”

Earlier in this year, during her typical August to October busy season, Gonzalez said her sales were down 42% from last year.

Now, as schools across Texas reopen and reschedule homecomings, she’s only down 13%. Gonzalez aims to close that sales gap by the end of year, since, she said, she's heard of some schools possibly having homecomings as late as December.

Still, she's concerned about next year.

"I'm worried that COVID is going to last long into the future and that this is going to completely affect homecoming in the future. I’m hoping that it doesn’t kill the tradition," she said.

Photographer Nancy Newberry said that would be unfortunate.

"Somehow mums — or traditions in a way — can satisfy this basic emotional and spiritual need. And I think, in this particular time, we could all use a little more of this," Newberry said.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Rachel Osier Lindley is Statewide Senior Editor for The Texas Newsroom.