Jacqueline Grab had no idea what she was in for.
She'd heard about HonFest and thought it sounded fun, though a little puzzling.
"I didn't know what a 'hon' was," said Grab, who moved to Towson two years ago. "I'm from the U.K. The Baltimore hon is a new thing for me."
As many Baltimoreans know, the HonFest, held yesterday for the 10th year on the Avenue in Hampden, is the perfect place for the uninitiated to learn about - and see firsthand - all things hon.
"They're colorful, crazy and a lot of fun," Grab decided shortly after arriving.
Colorful for sure. Fun, yes. But to be crowned Baltimore's Best Hon, it takes more than the signature big hair, abundant spandex, colorful accessories and rhythmic Bawlmerese.
Mary Dawson, a 45-year-old dental hygienist from Timonium, won this year's honors and was the crowd favorite.
"She had the attitude, the flashiness," said Janet Trimble, a former Best Hon who served as a judge. "Attitude is what makes a hon."
Dawson also had another advantage over the would-be Best Hons.
"She had real hair," Trimble said.
So do hons who wear wigs, rather than teasing and piling their natural locks high atop their heads, have a chance?
"No way," said Trimble.
Dawson, who was a "Hawaiian Hon" (her mumu was from Honolulu), said she knows why she won, even though she said she was surprised to earn the crown. "I was so dramatic," she said.
For her drama, she was awarded a prize package worth $1,600, including gift certificates to Avenue shops and plastic pink flamingos for her lawn.
Denise Whiting, founder of HonFest and owner of Cafe Hon and the Hon Bar, also presented Dawson with "a leopard-print turlit seat cover," to which Dawson exclaimed: "I always wanted one of these, hon!"
With 25 contestants, yesterday's pageant was the biggest ever, Whiting said, with entrants from Pittsburgh and New Jersey. (Last year there were 12 contestants.) But aside from the hons, there was plenty else to do during the nine-hour festival that spanned four blocks.
"It's all about having fun, laughing and smiling, eating and drinking, visiting with friends and making new friends, shopping and spending and playing Spam bowl," Whiting said. "Where else can you play Spam bowl?"
Spam bowling aside, of course, the hons remained the central attraction. And no one was too young to join in.
Marielle Cornes, 2, won the Lil' Hon title. Her mom, Faith Couvillon, said she has been dressing Marielle up as a hon since she was 4 months old.
"She was all excited this morning," Couvillon said. "I told her I was gonna be Mama Hon and she was gonna be Baby Hon."
Cornes, who had a roller in her wispy bangs, a handkerchief tied around the rest of her hair and several strings of pearls over her little floral dress, beat out 24 other little girls in feather boas and mini-beehives.
Those who didn't come to the festival as hons certainly had the chance to leave as one. Getting a beehive cost $5 in the glamour tent.
Jen Nasuta, a hairdresser at Kumbayah, a salon on the Avenue, said she had done about 10 beehives in the first hour of the festival. She explained the secrets to doing it right:
"A lot of hairspray, a lot of teasing and a lot of pins."
And apparently, dressing hon isn't confined just to women, either.
Ken Coppersmith, 68, of Hampstead said his daughter told him that everyone dressed up for HonFest. So, wanting to fit in, he slipped on a floral housedress, pink sandals and covered his head with a pink shower cap, leaving just a few strands of hair wrapped around a roller poking out.
And in the late afternoon, his mouth had a suspicious red ring around it.
"I was eating a red Popsicle," Coppersmith insisted.
But after questioning, he broke down: "I was wearing lipstick."
At first uncomfortable, he soon reveled in being the only man in hon garb yesterday. He might have been one of the most popular hons on hand, too. Every few minutes, it seemed, someone asked him to pose for a photo or offered advice on how to be a better hon.
"You didn't paint your toenails, hon," one woman said as she passed by.
"I didn't know they did that," Coppersmith replied.
"Yeah, hon, with glitter!"
Although he was a hit, Coppersmith said he was more impressed by the other hons.
"They got it all over me," he said. "They're purtier, more colorful, and have better legs."
Whiting said the festival is growing in popularity and hopes that those who come for the first time take away an understanding that "hon" is all about a fun and easygoing lifestyle.
"A hon is a man, a hon is a woman, it's a term of endearment. Hon is a feeling that you have in your heart," Whiting said. "There's something about putting on a feather boa, and cat's eye glasses, or Elvis sunglasses, that gives people permission to have fun."