Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Glittering Gowns of Fiesta San Antonio


Glittering gowns galore abound at Fiesta San Antonio parades that cause many a little girl to dream of becoming a princess, even for a day. This is in fact possible with many civic groups, even high schools, as seen above.

For those of us who sew historical gowns, the opportunity to help sew "sequins, spangles and Swarovski crystals" onto Fiesta gown would be memorable, although wearing them would be divine! Sadly I never had that opportunity. In fact, I was never certain where these gowns came from. Many have bedazzled me from afar as I've watched many a Fiesta parade. Others I've had the opportunity to revel in grand splendour up close and personal at the Witte Museum. This link shows some grand photos with details. However they do not stay at the Witte Museum. From whence do they come and where do they go?

My appreciation for textiles and needlework goes back to my childhood when I first saw these glittering gowns in Fiesta parades. This video of a coronation from 2011 gives a sense of their grandeur of regal 11-15' trains that with the gown can weigh up to 100 pounds.   Even my daughter would delight in these gowns when she saw them at the parades.

Every year during Fiesta, which began in 1891, princesses-to-be are bedazzled by 26 gorgeous gowns worn by 26 different lovely ladies who are chosen by the Order of the Alamo which began in 1909 by businessmen. One must be in the right circles to be chosen for the court. In other words, the honor to wear these gowns is given to debutantes. One article I read said that they are not chosen based on money, but based on heritage. That's a nice idea, however, one truely needs money to wear one of these gowns, because each of these ladies' families pays for her gown. It is speculated that they cost  $10,000 or more. After they are worn they might be donated to the Witte Museum to be displayed for a season. However the gown ultimately goes home with the young lady. Can you imagine having one of these in your own home? All this time I thought they belonged to the Witte!  Here is a great slide show of the queens beginning in 1909 to the present that definitely shows the fashion trends.

The first Fiesta queen was portrayed by Clara Driscoll who served for 3 years. She is the only lady to hold this distinction, perhaps because she is responsible for rescuing the Alamo which nearly became a hotel. Ever since 1909 each queen holds court for only one year with a princess and 24 duchesses, 12 from San Antonio and 12 from outside the city.

The design process takes three years of planning, designing and sewing. Here are two articles that go into grand detail of the process with two different designers: Master Embroiderer with Old World Technique and Prida.   

The entire process is a closely guarded secret until the grand unveiling at the coronation (as in the video above). This year's coronation was held last night, so here is a peak at this year's lovely creations! As part of their official duties, the queen and her court will be seen with their bejeweled gowns tomorrow during the Battle of Flowers Parade, which will be tomorrow's post.  In fact, I just checked and KSAT 12 is hosting the parade this year on San Antonio tv and on-line for us Texans who live afar at 12:30pm Central Time.

I went through all of my photographs this afternoon looking for parade photographs.  Alas only one batch of photos were found. I'm going to try to scan them tomorrow, then I will replace this one. Now we live in Virginia and don't get to attend the parades like we used to. However they do bring great memories and we participate the best we can from afar.  Researching and blogging this week has been great fun and my appreciation for Fiesta has deepened. If you'd like to read more I also wrote:Monday's River Parade and the Texas Cavaliers
Pilgrimage to the Alamo and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas
Medals of Fiesta, The Old Guard and El Rey Feo


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