FAIRHOPE — More than 30 contestants will take the stage this weekend in the 63rd-annual Dogwood Trail Pageant.The pageant and scholarship program, which has become a highlight of the start of …
FAIRHOPE — More than 30 contestants will take the stage this weekend in the 63rd-annual Dogwood Trail Pageant.
The pageant and scholarship program, which has become a highlight of the start of each new year on the Eastern Shore, will ultimately name the six teens who will don the colorful gowns of the 2023 Dogwood Trail Court.
The contestants are judged in four categories and on an essay, interview, creative introduction, and presence and composure. Winners take home a $1,250 college scholarship from the Eastern Shore Optimist Club.
Since 1961, there have been 332 Dogwood Trail Court members, and alumni include a Fulbright scholar, National Merit scholars and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin.
Each year, crowds, especially children, flock to the maids in their show-stopping, giant, colorful gowns at social events up and down the Eastern Shore for photos and hugs. Court members serve a one-year term as Goodwill Ambassadors for the Eastern Shore and completely roughly 150 hours of community service, including appearances at city, county and state events.
The competition began in the 1960s as an Old-World Court meant to accompany the king and queen of the Dogwood Trail, named each year by the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce. Then, the court wore traditional costumes that represented the nations and cultures that had settled in Baldwin County.
In 1964, the Eastern Shore Jaycees adopted the Dogwood Trail Program and patterned the pageant after the America's Junior Miss Program — now Distinguished Young Women. Over the years, the program expanded and changed to become the pageant and scholarship program that it is today.
Though the Dogwood Trail Program has seen many changes throughout its 63-year history, organizers say there is no doubt that it has left a powerful legacy.
"The pageant itself represents an invaluable opportunity for young women from the Eastern Shore," organizers said. "While participating in the pageant process, young women gain new friendships and confidence, embrace creativity and optimism, and learn skills of poise."
And now, let's talk about those dresses!
Who makes them? How do they pick their color? Here's a quick rundown, as explained by pageant directors.
No, organizers say.
Rather, they call the gowns "artistic interpretations reflective of our community's floral heritage, representing blossoms and petals." The 2021 costume had over 100 handmade pieces crafted by the court members. The 2022 court had over two dozen flowers incorporated into their design, with a five-panel apron representing the English dogwood flower.
The 2023 design will have six traditional four-petal double dogwood flowers in satin with pearl enhancements. The Dogwood flower, seemingly delicate, is a symbol of adaptability and strength, also reflected in the spirit of the Eastern Shore.
Organizers like to say, the color chooses you — you don't choose the color.
The day after the pageant, the Dogwood Trail Committee works with the new court members, and the color is selected by which one looks best with a member's complexion, eye and hair color. Organizers say they know the color has been selected when the new court member "radiates with excitement."
Costumes are contracted and paid for by the Eastern Shore Optimist Club with community fundraising and donor support. All six Dogwood Trail Court costumes are the same design, custom-made for each court member with personalized detailing.
The Dogwood Trail Costume Committee starts designing the next year's costume about a year out. The committee works with a local designer to bring their vision to life. Once a design has been approved the process of ordering fabric and supplies starts and the hats are completed before the pageant. With advance planning and purchasing of supplies, one seamstress completes six costumes in roughly eight weeks.
Email the Dogwood Trail Court at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out via social media to request an appearance. The court will not appear at certain events that do not reflect a similar mission of the Optimist Club, whose motto is "a friend of youth."
The 2023 court's first official appearance will be at the Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival on Saturday, March 18.