Harvest Costumes from the 1930s and 40s
In this season of harvest, I bring you some creative costumes from the bountiful Rio Grande Valley of Texas. They were made in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, for the annual Birthday Party in Weslaco, Texas. To promote the region’s agricultural products, each costume had to be made from fruits and vegetables!
I came across this collection of costume photographs from the Weslaco Museum, at the Portal to Texas History. I received permission to use some of them here, but I encourage you to go take a look for yourself – there are 305 photographs in total, and the work is amazing.
Most of them are stylish day dresses or formal gowns, but there are also creative entries including a drum majorette, a nurse, a naval officer, an Elizabethan courtier, and a skier. In all of them, the cut and detailing are original and well-executed.
Many of the photographs have only a standard caption about the costume contest – the contestant’s name, specific materials, and even the exact year of competition entry is not known. And that photos that do have information, leave me wishing for more!
In some designs, the organic source materials are apparent. Here is a dress made from some sort of leaves or possibly poinsettia bracts:
[Contestant 51], Photograph, n.d.; (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth21158/ : accessed November 15, 2015), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Weslaco Museum, Weslaco, Texas.
There is no further information about this entry, not even the color of the dress.
And here is one of my favorites, a beautiful gown and wig created from cotton — not woven cloth, but what looks to be just carded cotton sliver. (Possibly a little worse for wear.)
Edrington Studio. [Amparo Rodriguez], Photograph, December 1938; (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth21415/ : accessed November 15, 2015), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Weslaco Museum, Weslaco, Texas.
This next photo is undated, but I think we can assume that it is from the early days of WWII. I love the jaunty salute of the sailor in her outfit made of grapefruit peel!
[Contestant 13], Photograph, n.d.; (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth21338/ : accessed November 15, 2015), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Weslaco Museum, Weslaco, Texas.
I love this ensemble. I don’t think it would look out of place in the 1939 movie The Women (you know the one — Norma Schearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell). Miss Carlisk represented a garden club, and her dress was made out of 1000 leaves of the acalypha plant. I didn’t know that plant before this, but it has long red catkins and is also called the chenille plant, so I wonder if that’s what gave her club the idea.
Ann is representing the American Legion. She is wearing a Dutch costume that was made by the American Legion Auxiliary. The skirt was of delicate pink, made from five quarts of crushed bachelor button petals. The bodice was made from 2,000 purple bougainvillea blossoms and the blouse of 583 white periwinkles. The latter flower was used for her cap and apron, requiring 556 blossoms. The skirt featured a border of a lighter pink, embossed with tulips made from banana leaves and hibiscus petals. Trimming on neckline and sleeves, in five point star design, were created by using 150 inverted bougainvillea centers. Wooden shoes were made of Rhodes grass bloom. Cost: $17.08 Time: 723 hours.
Edrington Studio. [Billie Marion Parks], Photograph, n.d.; (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth21171/ : accessed November 18, 2015), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Weslaco Museum, Weslaco, Texas.
I like the last pic. Blessings Always, Mtetar
Come on, Mtetar, you’re creative! I think you should make some similar outfits from produce!
Thank you I’m thinking about that last pic with the designs by hand.
These make me think of those floats in the Tournament of Roses Parade! Creative, lovely, and . . . kinda weird.
I know. It wasn’t too long after the era of pole-sitting and telephone booth-crowding – they just knew how to have a good time going in a new direction!
What amazing examples of the wonderful weirdness of humans. I can’t imagine why anyone would make such outfits, especially if they took 700 plus hours to make. Was there any information about how long the outfits would last? At a local art exhibit I did see a dress made of cheap diner paper napkins with little handwritten notes that were included in someone’s lunchbox. However, that dress was on a dressform, not a person. Also, that was meant as art, not clothing. There was nothing ironic or meta about the outfits shown in the museum’s photo collection.
No, there was no other information. I don’t even know if the information they have was written up in the newspaper or something each year of the competition, because some of the photos have a lot and some have none. I don’t know where the museum got the photos, if they were passed on when a photo studio closed or what. I am sure it started as a way to make Weslaco stand out among Valley towns.
Thinking of costumes that take hours, I’ve never written about Washington’s birthday as celebrated in Laredo, Texas, where the girls dress in costumes inspired by that era! I need to go to that this year. Or the Battle of Flowers parade in San Antonio! I guess unusual costumes are alive and well here.
Very interesting; I too especially like the cotton wig and outfit. Possibly it was done like for a county fair or some type of competition. I can imagine the clothes being made from weird things, just to see if they could be made! Specking of weird, the santa suit made of rose petals, not much different than the Tournament of Roses or any other parade where they glue on flower petals, seeds of all types feathers, etc. Who’d of thought this occurred back when! Great post Gwen…
Yes, they did it every year (at least from 1938 to 1952) to show off their produce. It was certainly a lot of work! I think I would have done a floral arrangement and been done with it! 🙂
I think these are amazing! – the ingenuity required to put garments together out of fruit and vegetables! Very likely they’d start to wilt or go over while being worn ……and might you not get burned if you were wearing chilli peppers?!! Yes – they made me smile 🙂 thank you!
If the contest is ever re-instated, you could come up with a costume based on your harvest jell! There was one costume where the girl was “Basket of Ferns” – very racy for that day, a lot of leg showing. You could be “Jar of Homemade Jelly.” 🙂
Amazing! I, too, wonder how long those outfits lasted. And, like you, I’d rather prepare a flower arrangement – maybe in unusual container.
They held the contest in December — any other time of the year, and I bet they would melt on to the contestant! 🙂
I’m wondering if they made a sort of “paper” of those flowers and then made the dresses out of that. Then you could glue or sew it together. Hope my spelling isn’t totally wrong here, tired and with a cold that fills my head with cotton doesn’t improve my English…
I think your English is amazing! And I bet you are right about the paper, at least for some of the outfits. I hope I can find out more some day!
That was mind boggling and yes, it did bring a smile to my face…after I remembered to close my gaping mouth 🙂
Glad you liked it. I hope you remember to use 10 bushels of flower petals when you are whipping up this year’s Santa costume! 🙂
Thanks. some really head spinning looks there! regards Thom
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I too am totally mystified as to how they made their “fabric”. Like an archealogical discovery where you try to figure out how these ancient people made this or that. Thanks for the pics.
It would be great if we could find a bride who wore a rose-petal gown or something similar, for your blog! 🙂
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