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Thousands buzz land of beehive

The Baltimore Sun

Sporting a towering black wig and sparkling red eyeglasses, Dominic Motto surveyed the scene in Hampden yesterday and proved he knows a Hon when he sees one.

"The original ladies are in polyester, leopard print and their own beehives -- unlike mine," said the 34-year-old Mount Vernon resident, who joined thousands of Baltimore residents and tourists for the opening day of the 14th annual HonFest -- a celebration of Baltimore's idiosyncratic cultural heritage.

The fair, which continues today, attracted swarms of women, and a few men like Motto, who sashayed down 36th Street in plastic cat's-eye glasses, towering hairdos and pink feather boas.

Organizers of the festival, which pays homage to Baltimore's flashy retro fashion tradition, expect 20,000 visitors. The event culminates at 2 p.m. today with the crowning of Bawlmer's Best Hon -- who will claim a $2,000 shopping spree.

"This event is to just have fun and not think about politics, BG&E; and gas prices," said its founder, Denise Whiting, owner of Hampden's Cafe Hon. "It's to step outside of yourself for a day, to dress up and enjoy."

This year, organizers extended what has always been a one-day event to two days. "It was a lot of work for just one day," said Whiting. "So why not make it into a two-day thing? More people get to come now."

While some hons stuck to the traditional leopard-skin patterns and puffy house dresses, others diversified for marketing purposes. Hons in a hot pink grass skirts twirled hula hoops with bystanders and handed out pink flamingo straws to promote a downtown restaurant.

A trio of spandex-clad Hons, wearing boas and funky plastic glasses, stepped and gyrated to hip-hop music to promote a cardio gym class.

But Motto said he prefers the real thing. "It's nice to see the originals. You can tell by the way they talk -- and it's always 'Hi, Hon.'"

One hon turned herself into an 8-foot-tall political puppet. Calling herself the Peace Hon, Bev Davis of Baltimore waded through the crowd covered by a contraption made from a PacMan bedsheet, and a papier-mache mask of a bespectacled hon with peace- sign earrings.

Davis couldn't see through the PacMan sheet, so a friend, Lynn Robinson, led her through the crowd as she handed out bumper stickers reading "Peace Hon." They didn't get far, as festival-goers constantly swarmed them for pictures.

Davis and Robinson worried that the get-up was so tall that Davis wouldn't be able to get onstage for the Best Hon contest without knocking off her papier-mache head. "Well, I guess I'll just sashay a little bit in front of the stage," Davis said.

Shopkeepers sold hon necessities: rhinestone-studded glasses, gaudy gemstone rings and other tchotchkes. Food vendors served up local favorites, including crab cakes and pit beef. Long lines formed outside a makeshift hair salon as customers waited to get beehive hairdos.

"You just have to have lots of faith in hair spray and pins," said Sue Ebert, a Hampden beautician as she pinned the hair of one of 50 clients she expected as the day wore on.

"We'll probably go through about eight bottles of hair spray and six pounds of hair pins," Ebert said. "You ordinarily don't count pins by the pound."

Spontaneity, creativity and funky fashion are all part of the spirit of HonFest, organizers said. "We're just celebrating the working women of Baltimore," said Randi Rom, the event's director.

The Hon extravaganza started in 1994 when Whiting held a talent contest celebrating Baltimore's eccentricities outside of her cafe. "It was a little contest in front of the restaurant and now it's just big," Whiting said. "People are looking for something unique and fun, and I think they found it."

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