Bring your lawn chairs, appetites, and love of vintage culture to this family-friendly, summer-lovin’ weekend event in May!
By Sara G. Stephens
The Galveston Island Beach Revue, scheduled on May 16 and 17, is Galveston’s official kickoff to summer. It’s a weekend of yesteryear-inspired events headlined by the wildly popular Bathing Beauties Contest. Family-friendly and free to the public, there’s no better way to welcome the season.
Galveston’s population would triple during Beach Revue weekend in the early 1900s, according to Will Wright, co-owner of Islander By Choice, LLC (IBC), and the Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Galveston Historical Foundation. “Although we haven’t quite seen that turnout yet, we have seen a wonderful yearly growth in the event. Our [bathing beauties] contestants come from all over the US, and the audience size has steadily increased, too. With our new location and event structure this year, we’re looking for our best year yet.”
Dubbed the “Pageant of Pulchritude” by C.E. Barfield, the Galveston beauty contest began in the summer of 1920. These “bathing girl revues” are, in fact, credited with inspiring today’s Miss Universe pageant. The pageants were brought to an end in 1932 due, in part, to the Great Depression, but were revived in 2009, along with the entire Beach Revue, by IBC. “The Beach Revue was an idea we had prior to Hurricane Ike,” Wright comments, “but after the storm hit, we felt the time was right to reintroduce it, and something new, to the island. From our first year to our sixth, we’ve seen an amazing growth.”
The Galveston Island Beach Revue continues to grow each year through events, contestant participation, and attendance and is officially the City of Galveston’s “Kickoff to Summer” event.
The event’s popularity stems from something that’s wonderfully intangible and equally undeniable. “It’s that ‘good old days’ feeling of nostalgia from simpler and more carefree times,” says IBC co-founder Adrienne Culpepper. “For sure the Bathing Beauties Contest is—and historically has been—the highlight attraction for a number of reasons, including the draw for fashionistas, those into the pinup and vintage lifestyle, the lighthearted nature of the contest, and of course the gams.”
It’s clear that the vintage aspect of the Bathing Beauties plays into the appeal of this unusual pageant. And an increasingly fashion-savvy public (thank you, “Project Runway”) can truly appreciate the importance of the vintage styles they see in this revue. “We all see how trends cycle back, and fashion is no exception,” Culpepper remarks. “Modern swimwear is taking a turn toward a more ‘modest’ but still playful silhouette that includes one-pieces with cut outs, lower thigh cuts and deeper back scoops. Ultimately, many of the vintage and vintage-inspired suits let us enjoy the beauty of the female form while still leaving something to the imagination.”
Audiences are delighted even more by a wonderful range of Bathing Beauties contestants. Although the average age runs in the late 20s or early 30s, Wright says the competition draws everyone from retirees to college students. “All share a great sense of fun and confidence,” Wright says. “You’ll even see some men compete. It’s open to those brave souls too!”
You never know who else might make an appearance at this time-honored event. At 96 years of age, lifelong Galveston resident Dorothy Weaver proudly attended last year’s Beach Revue as a guest of honor. She was an early attendee of the original events, and you can hear her first-hand recollections of her colorful childhood growing up in Galveston, Texas with beaches, rides—and, of course, the Bathing Beauties. Listen to her memories of a day this event honors at www.ibcgalveston.com/blog/2013/05/beach-revue-heritage/. Weaver’s digital storytelling video was produced by Galveston’s Family Service Center, beneficiary of the annual Galveston Island Beach Revue.
“There’s a lot of pride in Galveston’s history, and this event is a direct connection to the early days of Galveston,” Wright says. “Held on Seawall with events that tie directly into that history, we’re excited to keep this event alive as part of that connection.”
Galveston Island Beach Revue Schedule
Friday, May 16
- 6 p.m., Festival & craft beer booth opens
- 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., Live music
- 8:30 – 8:45 p.m., Introduction of 2014 Bathing Beauties
- 8:45 – 10 p.m., Free outdoor showing of the 1965 movie Girl Happy, starring Elvis Presley
Saturday, May 17
- 12 p.m., Festival, vendors and craft beer booth opens
- 12 – 5 p.m., Family Service Center’s “Retro-Active” games
- 12 – 3 p.m., Charcoal Championship Cookoff
- 12 – 5 p.m., Vendor demonstrations on main stage
- 5 – 7 p.m., Bathing Beauties Contest
- 7 – 8 p.m., Live music by The Octanes from Houston
- 8:15 – 10 p.m., Live music by Grand Old Grizzly from Austin