Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Havin' a Ball at the Las Floristas Headdress Ball!

I'll go ahead and say it.  I like funerals.

It is said that funerals (memorials, celebrations of life, et al.) are not for the dearly departed.  Instead, they are for the living.  It may sound bonkers but nothing makes me want to go on living like a funeral - not so much for a fear of death, rather because hearing about the way that a successful life is one lived in a spirit of service and adventure, can be a somber reminder that there is still much living and learning to do.

Last weekend we drove several hours to attend the memorial service of a family friend who left an incredible legacy of beauty, joy, and mischief.  While the better part of three decades had passed since I had any direct contact with this friend, attending her memorial service was a wonderful opportunity to have my vaguely-marvelous memories of this unerringly-chic woman substantiated by the fond remembrances of her loved ones.

Susie, 1958
Isn't she breathtaking?  I think of Susie every time I make a dress or skirt for Mary;
she was quoted as saying, "A proper skirt should never have less than 5 yards of fabric."
(A higher-resolution image can be see here)

A statuesque octogenarian who referred to herself as 5'12", Susie was adventurer, wife, philanthropist, teacher, mother, model, artist, and chef all rolled into one.  When the announcement of her passing came, we were both saddened and intrigued - saddened, of course, by the loss and intrigued by the stunning images her family shared of Susie's incredible life.  In one particular photograph, dated 1958, Susie is donning a couture creation (remarkable for its multi-colored, asymmetrical peplum-turned-train) and a dramatic, oversized headdress.  My thoughts turned immediately to I Love Lucy and the episode, "Lucy Gets in Pictures" (1955).

When Lucy buckles under the pressure of this towering headdress,
she gets downgraded from cinema star to simple supernumerary.

Built for laughs, Lucy's headdress had nothing on the height, breadth, and splendor of Susie's phenomenal headpiece (and let it be noted that there isn't even the slightest trace of strain on Susie's unblemished brow).  Perhaps it is bad form at a memorial to so enthusiastically inquire about the origins of a sixty-year-old photograph but included in a slideshow tribute were a few equally-intriguing images that left us feeling like this was more than an ordinary fashion show.  Our piqued interest reached its collective peak when "showgirl" was not mentioned among her may artistic exploits.  As it turns out, Susie was a long-time participant with Las Floristas, a Los Angeles-based charity benefitting the health and educational concerns of special-needs children at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center's children's clinic.  Since 1938, the Las Floristas Headdress Ball, has been the charity's largest annual fundraiser.  Each year, similar fantasies fashioned of feathers and flowers, designed and built by professional florists, seem to grow in complexity and size (as shown in the videos below).

Las Floristas Headdress Ball (1938-1967)
(Susie can be seen at least twice is this video at about 4:50 wearing 
the gown and headdress combo above and approximately 5:35)

Las Floristas Headdress Ball (1968-1990)

Have you ever?  I have never.  I mean, did you see Susie with the scale-model Ice Capades dancer on her head?  Did you see the lady doing the Charleston?  Not to mention Eve, the functioning ferris wheel, the pirate ship, the mermaid leading her seahorse chariot, the giant opening ball thing, and the LOBSTER!!!  Oh, the lobster!  As far as I'm concerned, the Rose Parade can go suck an egg.





My newest research project is to see how these pieces are made; even with paper, aluminum, silk flowers, foam, and featherweight plastics, these works of wearable art have got to be heavy (some of the models are concealing cleverly-disguised braces/supports).  I saw somewhere that the staff of the Headdress Ball includes an orthopedic surgeon to consult on the maximum height and weight of the headdresses.  Of course, the next move would be to wrangle an invitation to the Headdress Ball - even behind the scenes.  If you have an in, please let me know; I've got to see this for myself!





So now do you see why I like funerals?  People are fascinating and full of personal histories to which we may not always be privy; as heartbreaking as the occasion may be, it is a thrill to learn more about the person and a challenge to be more like him or her.  I am grateful to Susie and her family for being a wonderful example of inclusivity, generosity, and kindness.  How lucky we were to have our lives touched by such a force of light and love!  If a pretty girl is like a melody, then Susie was SYMPHONY!

To find out more about Las Floristas, the Headdress Ball, and to donate, please visit
To find out more about the Las Floristas Children's Clinic at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, please visit


Mr. Tiny

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