AC: “In Texas, there’s this tradition where, it usually happens around Prom or Homecoming or a major dance, and it’s usually a thing with girls who get together and they make this “mum.” It’s kind of similar to a corsage except it’s like a giant ribbon, and you can put anything on it. Like a tiny sequin to a giant teddy bear or stuffed animal. It’s usually made with the colors of the school and has letters and motifs and stuff like that. People go really crazy for it. You can make it for yourself, but sometimes you can make it for your friends and give it to them the day of the game or something like that.”
The informant is a 20-year-old college student from Texas. AC said that the tradition of making and wearing mums was very popular among mostly girls at her high school and around Texas in general. She described the process of making mums as an ornate crafting project which girls would often do in groups for fun. Because their creation from scratch is so time consuming, some people also buy their mums. AC said that many girls made their own mums, but some girls made them for their friends as a platonic gesture of friendship. Most girls pinned them to their clothes, but if the mum was particularly big or if a girl received multiple, some people would pin them to their backpacks or just carry them around. She said that it is traditional for girls to carry their mums around with them all day on the days of big sports matches or school dances, and interprets them as an expression of school spirit.
I think that the tradition of making and wearing mums is a way to show school spirit, like wearing school colors or making posters cheering on athletes at sports games. For some people, the amount of care which goes into the creation of these items shows that they take pride in their school and see it as part of who they are. The accessories are a vehicle for expressing one’s taste and personality, where the items people choose to decorate them speak to the person’s identity. People can use symbols to signify their belonging to groups such as sports teams, but also to convey things such as their religious beliefs (with symbols like the cross), or to show their social status. Merely wearing one shows a sense of connectedness with the community, both with individual’s peers and with the previous generations who attended the school and partook in the tradition. I imagine that some people participate just to be a part of the social ritual and fit in. Wearing a mum can identify someone as a member of the in-group, whereas not wearing one can indicate that a person is in the out-group. Regardless of people’s motivations for participating, wearing and making a mum identifies individuals as members of a group, creating a common experience and tradition which people from a certain school, or Texans generally, can bond over.
It’s interesting that girls make mums for one another as expressions of platonic endearments. I think that this kind of homosocial celebration is rare in co-ed schools, where often extravagant practices like “promposals” can demonstrate a culture of heteronormativity. I imagine that the practice of giving a friend a mum is normalized because it is traditional. Still, social tension could erupt from this practice. I would expect that girls compete over whose mum is the best. Moreover, it can reinforce or reflect social hierarchies, since a girl receiving many mums indicates her popularity.