The Makings of a Dress for a Duchess

If you have lived in Corpus for awhile you most likely have noticed a large carnival set up near the bay by downtown come late Spring. You might have even noticed a rodeo going on at this time in American Bank Center, and possibly a night time illuminated parade. Well, if you haven’t noticed these events it’s time you take a closer look. This is Buccaneer Days, known as Buc Days to the locals. The Coronation Pageant is put on by the ladies of Las Donas de La Corte, and takes place the Thursday evening of Buccaneer Days, and is truly the highlight of the week. The event is open to the public and tickets can be purchased in advance for $60.

The Coronation Pageant showcases a royal court of selected members of our society. Duchesses are Sophomores in college and each year around twenty or so Duchesses are presented wearing the most spectacular gowns and trains one could ever imagine. If you are familiar with this event and want to know more details of the bedazzling dresses read on.

In the Las Donas group, there is a woman elected to Wardrobe Chairman, and it is her job to select the theme for the pageant and design the dresses for the Duchesses. This chairwoman works in conjunction with an artist to design each individual dress, train, headpiece, and accessory to honor or celebrate the chosen theme. The artist produces renderings which serve as the concept for the dress, which are then taken to the dressmakers to make them come to life. The designs are chosen for each specific Duchess, and not revealed to anyone until the night of the pageant.

There are four design houses that produce these dresses every year. I interviewed Andres Contreras, one of the dressmakers, to fully discover the amount of work and detail put into each gown. Andres has worked over 30 years as a dressmaker for Las Donas, and much like a high-end couture artist, he works all year long on his craft with hardly a break. Once the season ends, he almost immediately begins the next years work.

Andres takes the rendering and starts with the train design. He lays the design out on paper to the actual length of the train, draws the pattern, and works with a seamstress to assemble the pattern like a puzzle on the train. After the train is designed he uses muslin to design the gown on the Duchess, much like a custom made wedding gown. There are two or three fittings throughout the year, so that each gown is perfect for each Duchess. Andres works on one dress at a time, executing perfect detail with high quality materials that are all sewn onto the train. The average train finished weighs approximately 35 pounds, and headpieces and hand accessories can also be quite heavy depending on their detail. Andres travels to find the greatest materials each year, and each year discovers something new to help in his process.

The pageant is truly extraordinary – and you can purchase a ticket to witness first hand the beauty of these gowns and the girls wearing them. The pageant will be held Thursday, May 2, 2019. Tickets will go on sale in April.



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