Football season is upon us. I can’t explain the sport to you, in spite of my Texas heritage. It was never a religion in my home when I was growing up. But, I can explain some of the culture and ritual involved with attending football games.
For Texas women, a football game is more than a sport. It’s a chance to showcase ourselves.
Football season is an opportunity to show off your wardrobe and how well you accessorize. It’s a social event during which to forge feminine friendships. And it’s a real good place to swap gossip.
Whether it’s a high school or university game, you will see Texas women all decked out in their casual finery. Every Hawkins High School football game to which I went, I never attended without my hair being perfect and having my lipstick on. Like my friends, I carried an arsenal of cosmetics in my purse for touch ups. To this day, I can draw my compact out of my handbag faster than a gunslinger can draw his pistol. You learn to be fast with the goods, lest you miss a play on the field.
At Austin College, we were pretty casual at our football games. Afternoon games in the late summer made it necessary to dress for comfort, but that didn’t mean we had to sacrifice style. My sorority and I attended in our jerseys and designer jeans. This was in the 1980s, so of course no hairdo was complete without a big bow that matched our Theta Sigma Chi jerseys. This showing of the Greekness was a prelude to spring rush. We only held rush in the spring at AC, so the fall was spent looking as good as possible to potential members. It was all about the marketing and public relations and pretty girls draw in other pretty girls. And pretty girls are always at football games. This is where we got the skinny on who was going to rush whom, what happened after the previous night’s party and which college professor was not getting tenure. We also got to eyeball rival sororities and what they were up to.
I went to work for Texas A&M University in the early 1990s. Attending football games was not a requirement, but I went. I mean, this is Aggie football after all. And the women were drop-dead gorgeous. Slim, long denim pencil skirts, English riding boots and Ralph Lauren turtlenecks, Dooney & Bourke handbags, designer sunglasses…the works. The women rooting for the opposing teams, if they were Texas schools, also were gorgeously attired. In 1991, it was the height of female football fashion.
The Texas-University of Oklahoma weekend is another big fashion event. I don’t mean among the unwashed masses that descend on Dallas streets every October…no. I’m talking about expensive hotel suites with large screen televisions and catered eats. I went to one of these parties while still in college. My then-boyfriend’s parents sent out engraved invitations to the 1986 Red River Shootout soiree, held at the Fairmont Hotel. Attire: high casual in team colors. No kidding, folks; that was printed on the invitation.
I can’t talk about football fashion without mentioning the enigmatic homecoming mum. My non-Texan friends continually ask, “What the heck is up with those gigantic homecoming mums?”
It’s a mystery, y’all, but I’ll try to shed some light.
Football homecoming mums are a Texas tradition, and I’ve heard that Oklahoma does it too. Essentially, the mums are flowers worn as a corsage to homecoming football games.
They have been around as long as I can remember and the mums represent the admiration a young woman inspires in people who know her. The size of the flower in the center of the mass of ribbons in school colors directly correlates to how much a fella loves his girl. The bigger the mum, the greater the love. The more mums a gal has, the more fellas who think she’s the cat’s pajamas.
The center flower is a giant, white chrysanthemum usually made of silk and sprayed with glitter. Some mums sport teddy bears in the center. Usually, the ribbons have names and messages on them in glitter letters. The ribbons also have a dozen or so plastic and metal trinkets, especially mini-cowbells, interspersed among them. The result is a bizarre mass of flower and foof that looks like a cross between a parade float and a space ship.
Our 1983 Hawkins High School homecoming queen had so many mums on her, she looked like she was wearing Bjork’s swan dress from the 2001 Oscars. I’ve seen girls hunched over from the weight of their mums, trying to walk up the bleacher steps without tripping over the great gobs of ribbons trailing behind them.
Whether a gal receives a mum on homecoming from her beau determines whether the relationship will last. My first college boyfriend neglected to get me a homecoming mum and got dumped shortly thereafter. Y’all might think that’s shallow, but he and I had an understanding and he breached a sacred tradition of Texas coupledom by omitting this gesture. By not remembering me with that goofy flower, he pretty much said, “I don’t love you and I don’t care if I hurt your feelings.”
I have never forgiven him, and twenty years later, we still do not speak to each other.
The female side of football is complicated. You’re better off not trying to understand it beyond the observance of ritual and symbolism.
If you’re a fella courting a Texas woman, be real sure you let her have plenty of time to get ready to go to the game (she’ll need about 2.5 hours for hair and makeup) and be real sure you don’t forget the flowers.
Your relationship depends on it.
First printed in Tex Messages, The Fort Hood Sentinel, 2009.