Karen Lattanzi's mother was never cool enough to pile her hair on top of her head, load it with hairspray, slip into skin-tight pants and wrap a screaming-purple polyester scarf around her neck.
But her daughter, 13-year-old Chiari, is.
"I am so proud," Lattanzi, of Towson, said yesterday after Chiari was named "Best Hon" in a contest to memorialize Baltimore's distinctive women of yesteryear and their distinctive sense of fashion. (Rule No. 1: Hair can never be teased too high.)
"I remember my girlfriend's mother looking much like my daughter," said Lattanzi, 46, a teacher's assistant who grew up in Northwood. "My mother was not that cool. I was really envious."
Ah, Mrs. Lattanzi, cherish the sight. Chiari donned a purple daisy tube top, low-slung leather pants, a multicolor-fish belt buckle and enough eye-shadow to beautify all the girls at the prom. A yellow plastic daisy was stuck in her hair, which stood a good 6 inches on top of her head, and of course, a screaming purple polyester scarf was tied around her neck.
"I feel like Miss America," Chiari announced to thunderous applause at Hampden's Cafe Hon after she beat out five other similarly clad contestants in the eighth annual such event held by the restaurant. "Thank you so much."
Her prize? Pink plastic flamingos.
Some believe such contests poke fun at Baltimore's beloved "Hons," the tough-talking, beehive sporting, plastic-accessory-loving women of the '50s and '60s immortalized in John Waters' films. Two years ago, for example, the Ravens football team dropped the scoreboard image of a mock "Hon" woman in a pregame video clip after fans booed and complained.
But for Pamela Messaris, 34, and Pat Gill, 47, both former winners of the Hon contest, dressing up and pronouncing the letter "O" as "Eouh," shows respect and admiration for the women who labored for that look.
"The working women of yesteryear, the woman behind the Woolworth's counter, the waitresses at the lunch counter, they had lots of style, lots of class," said Messaris, a Baltimore native who sported leopard-print earrings, a matching scarf and who carried a plaid duckpin bowling bag.
"You have to admit, when you have hair this high, you are goingto look like a queen," she said.
Mary Pat Andrea, 50, owner of the Hometown Girl store, which sells Baltimore kitsch such as beehive wigs and crab hats, said such contests preserve all that is - or was - thankfully different.
"Everything is so malled and chain-stored and the same everywhere, and then you come to a neighborhood like Hampden and it's really unique," Andrea said. "People kind of take it for granted, but we'll lose it if we take it for granted."
Chiari Lattanzi and her friend Leah Platek, 13, both of Towson, take nothing for granted. Trying to be a Hon takes hard work. For the past week, Chiari said, the girls have practiced their drawl, shopped to find just the right polyester polka-dot capri pants and worked long on their make-up.
"It's so fun teasing your hair with Aquanet," Chiari said.
The pair did a screeching, nasal rendition of the hit theme song from the movie "Titanic" that brought the 60-member crowd to their feet: Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" became "My Heart Will Go Awn."
Their mantra? Sing out your nose and make it real "perty."