Food, music, vendors, and more lined 36th Street in Hampden for the 20th anniversary of Honfest. (Matt Bylis/Baltimore Sun Video)

Since 1994, Hampden's Honfest has been celebrating the archetypal Baltimore hon. Women — and even some men — have flocked to 36th Street (if you're a local, you know it as the Avenue) for the sole purpose of winning the title of Baltimore's Best Hon.

But what separates the true hon from the mere pretender? Why do people regard her so fondly? And why are women willing to come back to Hampden, year after year, to vie for the coveted title?

We asked three veteran hon contenders, ranging in age from 12 to 65, those very questions. Being a hon, it turns out, is not easy. But the rewards — how many titles, after all, make you an automatic civic icon? — make the effort worthwhile.

Because everyone loves a hon.

The veteran

Janet Trimble leads a veritable hon dynasty.

Born and raised in Hampden, the 65-year-old Trimble says she is "definitely" a hon, and has been all her life. And what's more, she's got two more generations of hons backing her up.

"A hon means a Baltimore hard-working woman," says Trimble, a waitress at Cafe Hon since it opened in 1992, a former Baltimore's Best Hon herself (in 2001) and now a judge in the annual contest. "You worked all your life, you're a hon. You raised your children with a bunch of pride."

Sadly, Trimble's two grown daughters have moved away. But her daughter-in-law, Kay Cooke, has been a contestant in the Baltimore's Best Hon contest. So has her granddaughter, Jordan Cooke. Trimble regards her lineage with matriarchal pride.

"I think people should be proud of the hons," she says.

Trimble certainly is, even if she commutes to Hampden these days from her home in Perry Hall. She remembers when her boss, Cafe Hon owner Denise Whiting, started Honfest 20 years ago. "It was smaller, and then it got bigger and bigger," she says. "It wasn't even in the street then. It was up in the back, on our parking lot."

Although she's a hon every day of her life, Trimble admits to gussying herself up special for Honfest. Mostly, she says, it's a question of hair.

"I do it up special for Honfest," she says. "My hairdresser is 70 years old, so she knows all about that. She flips my hair up like nobody's business. Boom, she has it up there."

But the best part of being a hon, especially at Honfest, is the reaction she gets from people, Trimble says unequivocally. "Everybody stops and wants to talk to the hons. They get their cameras out, they want to take a picture of their children with you. All day long."

And the worst part? Well, it's kind of a drag, Trimble admits, that, as a judge, she's not allowed to play favorites.

"When any friends or family are on," she says with a sigh, "you just can't vote."

The kid

Sure, there's the hairdo and the cat's-eye glasses. But take it from Sophia Freitag — there's way more to being a successful Hon than that.

"Just make sure your accent is right," says 12-year-old Sophia, a student at the Waldorf School who will be entering her fourth Miss Honette contest this weekend. "And have a lot of sass."

And there you have it. Even 12-year-olds understand that being a hon is about more than just the looks. " [It's] also being very friendly," she adds.