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Citrus couture comes to catwalk

20140110 Product-costumes Mission-HIstorical-Museum-Archives featureMISSION—Dried citrus leaves, burnt tangerine peels and powdered bugambilia petals are all critical details of fashion for the annual Texas Citrus Fiesta Product Costume Style Show.

The art of creating outfits, hats, capes and accessories solely from agricultural products grown in the Rio Grande Valley is one that has been practiced for more than 60 years with the fiesta.

The show is the first of multiple events for the 2014 Texas Citrus Fiesta. This year’s Product Costume Show will be held at the Mission Community Center, 1420 E. Kika de la Garza Loop. The event will run from 2 to 4 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door for adults and $3 for children 10 years old and younger.

Product Show Chairwoman Barbara Gerlach said product show dressmaking has slowed over the years but recently has been revived by Girl Scouts from Mission.

“All of my designers this year are Girl Scouts. New girls are designing mainly hats, but one dug right in and is doing a costume,” Gerlach said. “It truly is a dying art. People are so much busier…it’s just, different.”

Competitors work year round and take courses to prepare for the competition that will be held on Saturday. Participants in the 2013 product show said they constantly carry clippers and bags in case they spot colorful plants or unique product.

“There is a lot of stuff that we have seen over the years,” Gerlach said. “One year a man used cottonseed to completely cover a costume, and some else brushed it all out. You just have to have the eye for a design.”

In the past, Gerlach recalls 10-15 women would work on one fashion piece, which would make for an elaborate presentation. In the earlier years of the fiesta, the 1930s to late ’40s, the dresses would be covered in fresh fruit.

Now, a project handled by multiple people has been whittled to just one or two designers. Contestants dry out product either in the sun or a dehydration machine, and choose whether to grind, pulverize the plants or apply as is.

Though she hasn’t participated as a competitor in 20 years, Gerlach explained there are tips that are passed on in classes taught by herself with help from Bertha Filut, Texas Citrus Fiesta executive director.

Gerlach said during classes and competition people trade techniques and experiences to create the perfect materials.

One tip she stresses is having patience; the process of collecting, drying and pulverizing product is slow and takes time. She added though it is a commitment, participants always fall in love with that costume show.

“It takes a lot of work, time and effort, and you truly have to love to do it,” Gerlach said. “But once you do it, you will want to continue…you just have to make that initial step.”

This year’s theme for the 77th Texas Citrus Fiesta is “Western Glitz & Glamour,” which is a difficult feat since guidelines are specific, with minimal use of non-agricultural products. Due to the glamour portion of the contest, participants are allowed to have glitter on 30 percent of small accents and accessories.

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