Every February in Laredo, Texas, the entire town celebrates George Washington’s Birthday with a festival, which includes a peculiar debutante ball sponsored by the Society of Martha Washington, in which young women dress as a stylized fashion ideal of the mother of our country.
The dresses take a year to sew, and the girls spend a year learning how to wear them: how to glide, how to float their arms out so they never touch the skirts, how to hold their heads under the weight of the coiffure. The look is Marie Antoinette in her let-them-eat-cake days, and the dresses, like Marie’s dresses, weigh so much—up to one hundred pounds—that they hurt the girl. They leave bruises at the shoulders and hips where the dress bones pull down on girl bones. The dresses, like the gestures, are passed down from mother to daughter.
Each girl needs five dressers, who first lace her into her corset, then affix the “cage” of the hoop skirt to her waist, sneaking a pillow between the cage and her body so her skin isn’t rubbed raw. Then come petticoats, and the dress on top. The dressing occurs over a tarp with a hole cut into its center, and once everything is in place, the women pick up the girl and the tarp together and walk her to the stage so that the dress never touches the ground. If it is raining, they wrap her in plastic too.
The history behind the ball goes back to the 1840s, when settlers from the East were sent to Laredo to “Americanize” the newly-annexed Texas. Read that history and how the modern Marthas do their thing at Believer magazine. -via Digg
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