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Homecoming mum tradition goes over the top in Texas

Sep 25, 2011, 2:12 p.m.

By Marice Richter

DALLAS, Texas (Reuters) - What started out as a simple token gift from a teenage boy to his girl has morphed into a tradition of gargantuan proportions that, again, proves everything is bigger in Texas.

It's the homecoming mum, and it has come a long way since parents of today's teens were in high school.

Back then, it was a real chrysanthemum flower given by a boy to his date, similar to a corsage given for a prom.

"There were a few ribbons on them, but it was basically a flower you pinned to your blouse," recalled suburban Houston mother Lauren DeLorimier, who went to school in the 1970s. "Somewhere between the 1970s and the 1990s, that all changed."

Today, they are mammoth, over-the-top splays of silk chrysanthemums festooned with flowing ribbons, plush animals and an array of colorful trinkets that have spawned competition among girls to see whose is the biggest, and therefore, best.

Homecoming season kicked off this weekend for high schools across the South -- and these bountiful blooms, which weigh more than a household pet and often reach the floor, show no signs of becoming shrinking violets.

Technology has made it possible for mums to be outfitted with colorful LED lights and connections for iPods or CD players, adding splash with audio and visual capabilities.

With so many features, a mum can cost up to $500. Not surprisingly, savvy entrepreneurs, mainly women, have taken advantage of the opportunities, spawning a multimillion-dollar industry of cottage mum-makers, supply retailers, and manufacturers of ribbons, trinkets and other mum necessities.

DeLorimier, who saw all this coming when her daughters were in high school about 10 years ago, started making custom mums out of her home before opening a shop of her own.

HEAVY LIFTING

The standard cardboard backing that supports the mum was inadequate for the increasingly hefty job. So with the help of her husband, an engineer, she created and manufactured a sturdier polyurethane base, now a staple online and in her 12-year-old, seasonal retail store.

"You need something strong to support a mum that weighs 20 to 30 pounds," she said. "It is definitely my best seller."

Despite the sagging economy, teens and their families are still willing to spend lavishly on homecoming, for party clothes, fancy restaurants, tickets, a limo, and the mammoth mums.

And though not every teen can afford to spend hundreds, they still find ways to observe the custom.

At some high schools, a do-it-yourself mum costing from $20 to $50 is more standard than a professional custom creation.

Custom mum-maker Charity Drabik of Fort Worth is trying to put a new spin on the do-it-yourself mum by offering mum parties similar to Tupperware parties.

"I think this is a good way to make a mum at a lower cost and have fun in the process," she said.

L&M Wholesale and Manufacturing, based in the small North Texas town of Glen Rose, produces imprinted ribbon and other supplies and sells them to Texas grocery and drug stores, craft shops, florists, custom mum makers and booster clubs.

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