Monday, March 30, 2009

Once Upon a Time in Laredo

...excerpted from National Geographic.

They're having a ball in this South Texas town. But as the border between the U.S. and Mexico tightens, life will never be the same.

The Society of Martha Washington Pageant and Ball in Laredo, Texas began in 1898 as a simple celebration of George Washington's birthday, meant to infuse the border town's largely Mexican population with American patriotism. It has evolved into a month-long celebration with dozens of events.

In a highly political and fierce competition, those few chosen debutantes, perfect as porcelain dolls, and their escorts are presented to 1,500 paying guests at the Laredo Civic Center, in a ritual designed to preserve the established social order. Those chosen are expected to take on the expense of their own gowns, averaging $38,000.

The Society of Martha Washington, sponsor of the gala, urges debutantes to select a platonic partner; the ones chosen are usually the sons of society members.

It would be easy to make fun of Laredo and its pageant. In these days of war, famine, global warming, and the ever growing divide between rich and poor, an elaborate tribute to Martha Washington by debs wearing gowns that weigh 85 pounds and cost in the neighborhood of $30,000 is something of an easy target. Recently, however, change has come to the region—in the form of drug violence across the border and, emanating from Washington, battles over immigration—threatening a way of life that has persisted here since the first Spanish settlers arrived in the 1700s. This year, despite the jeweled gowns and effusive abrazos at the celebration, it was natural to wonder whether Laredo's oldest families were honoring the past or clinging to it. And that didn't seem funny at all.

I find this entire event remarkable and fascinating, somewhat amusing, and very beautiful. Read more about it at National Geographic - and look at more pictures of the participants by clicking on the gallery link at the top of the page.

When I was a teen, we had a yearly event in our town (I grew up in Bucks County, PA) which was a very democratic sort of debutante ball. It was a large formal affair and called the Bucks County Cotillion. We would be forced (if you were a guy you were forced LOL) into a tuxedo and had to escort (and present) a girl who was assigned to you. Probably the girls weren't forced into their gowns - I'm pretty sure they loved it. Though I'm also fairly certain that none of the girls' gowns were hand-beaded and jewel encrusted $38k gowns! I call it more democratic because you weren't selected by jury who poured over your parents' position, lineage, and social status. You were selected because your parents forced you to take ballroom dancing and etiquette lessons for two years. Believe it or not, almost everybody back then participated!

They no longer have the Bucks County Cotillion. I don't know when exactly it ended. I know that it was in a bizarre transition period when I participated as a teenager (that was the late '60's). They could make us wear these silly suits; they could make us learn the box step, the waltz, and the cha-cha; they could make us hold chairs and open doors for the girls; they could not make us cut our hair or stop saying "groovy!" Looking back, I realize what a disreputable bunch we must have looked! - and really we were all respectable middle class kids!

Okay, GO MAKE SOMETHING - or I'll get you! and your little dog, too!
¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*´¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•´♥ Tristan ♥


Anonymous said...

HAHAHA Here in Tyler, they have the Rose Festival. They pick a Rose Queen(high school age) her Court and boys to escort the entourage of very well to do families. It is an affair that last for about a month starting in November. They even have an entire section of the newspaper with all of the events...teas, balls, luncheons etc..

I've never seen anything like it! You know Tyler grows at least half of all of the roses in the United States. They even have a Rose Garden you can visit. Once, we went but the roses looked just plain tired out...I guess it was too late in the season because I didn't see very many roses. We didn't even get out of our car...we just drove on by.
How well I remember the word "groovy". I could never bring myself to say just sounded so, so, so weird to me. HA and that my friend was because I guess I WAS weird.


Anonymous said...

Those dresses and jewelries really are something! Hand beaded? Whew!Tradition, tradition, yup I guess everything goes back to that.And as a part of it -the elites, it must have been really hard to let go of such practice. But oh my, the dresses' worth can really make someone else's heads shake of disapprove. But I just can't help being amazed :-)

Anonymous said...

I need one of those gowns, a tiara and a scepter. Then I'd proclaim myself queen of my own make-believe world :)
What beauty!

The Joy of Nesting said...

The Carnaval Queen is pick along those lines.However it is open to any young woman not just the daughter's of the elite. BUT each queen must raise at least $300,000(mn) worth of votes. You would have to have a whole lot of bake sales to raise that, especially if your family and friends where from the working class. The queen with the most vote (which = money raised) wins. To become queen is every young girls dream it is a guarantee of marrying well.

Pattie ;)
Mazatlan Mx.

mo.stoneskin said...

Those dresses are crazy, beautiful, I wonder if I can get one for my wife...

Lici de Souza said...

These outfits, are masterpieces of art.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Bonjour Messieur,

I have seen your comments on Ulla's blog, and now I was directed by another blogger who suggested I visit you because of your love of miniatures! Well, I see you love all that sparkles, and well, that is entirely up my alley! I am a rather new blogger, since January. Come and visit me sometime. Your style is stunning and I am an artist at heart, but not a practicing one. I am a teacher and that demands much of my time, but I do dabble in crafts. Come and see! Keep on making the world a beautiful place to look at! Anita

zizzybob said...

Fabulous gowns which I see as another art form. As for the cost, if you can afford it what is the problem. I know some quilting bloggers who spend ridiulous sums on fabric. It's got to be cheaper than therapy.

Anne Huskey-Lockard said...

While I enjoy the quality of the gowns, and from spending a portion of my so-called-life as a seamstress, there is something that does not set well with me due to the cost. Yes, I love New Orleans and Mardi Gras, and yes, I realize those gowns and court costumes keep people in the seamstress business; I acknowledge that readily.
However, in the current political atmosphere, and with so many being completely without, wouldn't it be nice if, in a manner of political parody, the gowns were made of crepe paper or some recyclable material---saying, in essence, we can still honor our past but we can snub our nose at the overblown expenses that the pagent requires.
Yet, I would think that if you can afford a dress like that, you could care less about the current state of affairs.
Sorry Tristan, I am the wet blanket today I guess! My thought is there is a time and a place for everything.....this is just sort of out of time.
Hope ya still love me anyway!!! I did so enjoy the history and pics.

Anonymous said...

While I could never afford to spend that much money for something like that, I do appreciate the tradition behind it. As a "transplanted" Southerner, the debutante/cotillion idea has always fascinated me - yes, it is somewhat archaic, but I guess the idea of dressing up in a beautiful gown and going to a ball appeals to my inner-princess. It reminds me that we were once a tad more civilized than we are now; and manners and common courtesy hadn't vanished.

Shell said...

Those gowns are gorgeous. I was asked to be a debutante for a local club in Yonkers. At the time, it wasn't mine thing. I still think it's a beautiful idea for others.

I'm glad you like my choice of movies. I know some of them are let's "unique". What can I say I'm that kind of girl. Hope your having a fabulous Tuesday, Tristan.

Anonymous said...

The gowns are Beyond Beautiful!! Can you imagine how heavy they & the rigging to wear them must be?? They are works of art!!
Have a great day Tristan!!

Gabriela said...


OMG!!! This post is fabulous, I love details, and if it's over the top even better.

~ Gabriela ~

Nancy said...

Since I lived more of my life in the south, but was raised in the Northeast, I can understand the importance of this tradition to the families, and yet when is too much really too much. Personally, I hate to see the skill of creating such gorgeous gowns by hand go away. I love the trims, the fabric, the stitches...I vote keep it, but rework existing gowns or recycle the gorgeous that is out there.

ceecee said...

You grew up in Bucks County?! OMG! I grew up in Hamilton, N.J. just outside of Trenton. New Hope, Ralph Stover State Park, Washington's Crossing, and everywhere along the River Road were my stomping grounds. What a small, small world! Very interesting post, Tristan.

Tristan Robin said...

Well, if New HOpe was your stomping ground, perhaps you stomped over me! I grew up in New Hope - and, naturally, spent a lot of time at Washington Crossing!

HalfCrazy said...

Hi there!

It's amazing how everyone looks so extravagant! If I live during that time, I would hate being a girl LOL. I'll just do my part watching Jane Austen-like movies.

I am subscribed to National Geographic, they send me issues every month, I hope I get to read the rest of this excerpt written in your blog.

I think you're lucky having to experience the Bucks County Cotillion LOL! At least you'll learn some ballroom moves LOL.

Much Love,

Becs said...

Tristan, I love this! The gowns are fabulous! The girls are lovely and the story is wonderful! How do you find these things? They are awesome! I love visting your blog! BEcs

Chris said...

Amazing! I really need to get me a 18th Century gentlemen's outfits similar to those.

Dawn Parsons Smith said...

Those gowns are gorgeous! My daughter loves to dress up in elaborate ball gowns. I wish they still had those traditions, but alas no more.

LuLu Kellogg said...

I love all these beautiful gowns!

I have been traveling so I am trying to catch up on Blog visits today :) How's "A Day at the Beach" mini theatre coming along? I can't wait to see this when you are finished working your magic!

LuLu Kellogg

Tristan Robin said...

actually, I finished it last week.

it was rejected by the magazine that called for submissions.

I hate it when that happens LOL

Anita said...

I love the first dress- so fabulous...wonder what happens to these dresses after they are worn once?