Harry Heroman Jr. remembers when his father would stay up nights in front of the TV set before LSU home game weekends, churning out hundreds of corsages.
Pulling from a cigar box of purple pipe cleaners, he could fashion the letters L-S-U in five or 10 seconds, recalled Harry Heroman Sr.’s son.
He’d pin the purple letters — or for a few extra cents, a ceramic tiger or football — on yellow mums, which the men would slip on their dates’ wrists or pin on their dresses.
A ledger at the Original Heroman’s Florist on Government Street in Baton Rouge from Oct. 22, 1966, says the store sold out of all of the 2,385 yellow mums they made for that homecoming weekend.
By 1975, the ledger reads, “500 football mums – too many.”
“The whole mood changed,” said the younger Heroman. “With the (change) in dress codes, (corsages) got to be obsolete.”
These days, the only corsages sold for football games are to those who went to LSU in the 1960s or earlier and have come back to catch a game. They might not realize, Harry said, that it’s fallen out of fashion.
Like corsages, trends in fashion have evolved much over the decades in Tiger Stadium. The only ones likely to be wearing a tie in Death Valley these days are fraternity pledges. But there was a time when business for florists, hat stores and fashion boutiques in Baton Rouge boomed the days and hours before kickoff.
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An excerpt from a Nov. 5, 1961, article from The Times-Picayune about the atmosphere before LSU played Ole Miss reads like a party scene from “The Great Gatsby:”
“By car, train, bus and plane they came and started arriving well before dark with box lunches and various beverages… An hour before the game the mist had cleared and one could see all the costumer colors around the stands, and it seemed the Mississippi gals were trying to outdo their sisters from Louisiana in the matter of vivid and smart dress but to this observer it looked like a standoff.”
The late 19th century brought two big changes to football fandom. Until then, the concept of having enough leisure time to actually watch others play a sport was primarily left to the wealthy, but as weekends were carved out for the masses, spectating took on a new meaning.
“Along with the idea of being a sports spectator, you have clothing developing for active sportswear, but also people who are watching sports are starting to adopt these sporty clothes,” said Clare Sauro, the curator of Drexel University’s Historic Costume Collection. “You have a very clear distinction, because this is the 19th century mindset that you have a specific type of dress for what you’re doing and, not only is it geared toward what you’re doing, but the time of day, are you in the country or the city?”
Clothing manufacturers began developing knits for the first time, creating “functional” fabrics like flannel and tweed, but clothing itself remained expensive in the United States.
“In the late teens, early 1920s, you have a distinctive youth culture happening, a distinctive collegiate style,” Sauro said. Young men would wear baggy flannel trousers known as “plus-fours,” named literally for how they fell about four inches below the knee, argyle sweaters and the first soft collars.
“Traditionally, you had starched, stiff collars, and you can’t get too physical in a stiff collar,” Sauro explained, noting that the Polo shirt was invented in the late 19th century and had slowly gained steam.
Women adopted the trends, too, but in different ways. According to an article about football fashions published in the program for LSU’s game versus Oregon State on Sept. 18, 1976, women in the 1920s “might have attended a football game garbed in a suit with the skirt hanging 6 (inches) from the ground, high-laced ‘walking boots’ or high patent leather shoes with contrasting buckskin tops. Her stockings were black — or tan if she wore tan shoes. Flesh-colored stockings were considered risque.”
Through the the Depression Era of the 1930s, many people would only have a couple pairs of shoes and a few changes of clothes, at best. Closets weren’t even usually large enough to accommodate much more, which meant that the idea of a fan of any team likely was not purchasing extra clothing, let alone in specific colors, for game days.
“You did not have (the merchandising of college sports) in the 1930s and 1940s, no one was holding up giant foam fingers,” said Wayne Phillips, the curator of costumes and textiles at the Louisiana State Museum, which manages the artifacts collected by the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. “It wasn’t customary to wear a purple necktie for a man or a purple and gold dress.”
Through the 1940s and 1950s, some modifications happened with each generation — hats slowly faded away, gloves were left at home — until the “youthquake” of the 1960s.
Former LSU defensive back and 1962 Heisman Trophy runner-up Jerry Stovall didn’t get to watch games from the stands since he was running plays on the field, but he remembers match-ups in Tiger Stadium as major social events.
“It was incumbent on the man to buy a big white or yellow mum for (his date),” said Stovall, who was on the team from 1959-1963.
“Guys wore slacks and a sports shirt with a tie. The young ladies dress up, (wearing) panty hose and all,” Stovall said.
“We walked from the fraternity houses to the games in heels,” said Pam Vinci, curator of the LSU Textile and Costume Museum who was also a student at the university from 1963-1967. “We wore fur coats, even if the weather was warm.”
It made more sense in the 1950s and 1960s to dress up, since tailgating wasn’t a common thing to do. Instead of packing coolers and erecting barbecue pits on the campus under the sun, students and locals would host parties at their houses, which were decorated with LSU-themed floral arrangements and elaborate centerpieces.
Shifts away from dressier trends can be attributed to young people having no desire to look like their parents, and new styles had developed to distinctly separate children, teens and young adults. The young Pres. John F. Kennedy even shunned the use of hats, instead flashing his signature smile and well-coiffed ‘do.
“It’s this massive swelling of young people who are saying they’re not going to conform to these standards anymore,” Sauro said.
While some women continued to wear hats in the 1960s, Vinci said, they were smaller as fashion changed to pill-box style — exemplified by First Lady Jackie Kennedy — so as not do mess up their hair-dos.
“We were teasing our hair by then,” Vicni said.
Then through the 1970s and 1980s, collegiate sports underwent their own renaissance as TV networks began showing games live and the commercialization of sport exploded.
“College sports became so much more commercialized, and the economic impact of college sports became much more important, especially with new stadiums being built and enrollment increasing,” Phillips said. “That commercialization changed the way people dressed because they wanted to look like a fan, paint their face, wear purple and gold and have all these commemorative props to show their pride.”
On LSU’s campus, Vinci attributes costume-inspired purple-and-gold stadium-wear to Bill “Chico” Moore, who helped charter the Tiger Gridiron Club, a booster organization.
“He was the first to really dress outlandishly,” Vinci said.
Moore cheered from the stands in a yellow tuxedo with purple lapels, the outfit topped with a half-yellow, half-purple Afro wig.
By then, clothing was relatively cheap, brands like Nike and Adidas jumped from the playing field to the stands and the idea of wearing purple and gold as a spectator became not only suggested but nearly mandatory.
“We have blurred the lines between what is activewear and what is every-day clothing,” Sauro said. “I don’t see this changing. It’s a natural progression.”
One thing that hasn’t changed, Phillips noted, is the tradition of some fraternities who insist their pledges and/or members dressing in a proper shirt and tie.
“That’s a tradition that’s been handed down to them and is important to them,” he said. “That’s important for group mentality and fellowship. … You can look at that in so many types of organizations, even in uniforms.”
Stovall said the changes in football fashion from then to now are for the better, if only because of the logistics.
When Stovall played on the squad, the stadium’s capacity was about 67,500. Today, close quarters seating inside a facility with 102,321 capacity and tailgating tents pitched as far as the eye can see, he noted, “My God, that’s a zoo.”
Vinci said some students still dress up, but boutiques have popped up in recent years that deliberately target women seeking comfortable dresses in hues of purple and gold.
The casual wear inspired an atmosphere of fun, which Stovall said was a good evolution and encourages school spirit and perhaps some louder cheering.
“I think casual is the way to go,” Vinci said. “It probably should always have been (the goal) to be comfortable and really enjoy being at Tiger Stadium.”