EL PASO – This border city’s downtown shopping district has become a flourishing quinceñera Mecca as girls turning 15 and their families flock to buy lavish party dresses and accessories to celebrate their transition into womanhood.
Outfitting quinceañeras, one of the most important celebrations among Hispanics, has become a booming business here where 82 percent of the population is Hispanic. “Customers are very faithful to this location. There’s a lot of traffic coming from everywhere. There are even people coming from outside of Texas,” said Yuridia Villagran, co-owner of Imperial Real Boutique.
“Some people come from Mexico such as Chihuahua, and Juárez. Other customers come from other places like California, Florida, Lubbock and Amarillo. This is a central location and you don’t need a lot of advertising to bring people in,” she said.
When a girl turns 15, she is considered to be entering womanhood, a time when a girl takes on more responsibilities and is acknowledged as an adult within the community. The quinceañera celebration not only honors the woman’s maturity but it also honors her family — her parents and godparents.
For many Catholics, this is also a time when the parents and family come together in a religious ceremony to thank God for his blessings. Although the tradition has changed through the years, there are many historical elements that quinceañeras still incorporated today.
“Every single item is very symbolic, the shoes, the pillow, the tiara, the veil. All of those things are symbols. Some people are not aware of these things, but if you go into the symbolism of each one of them it’s a very nice aspect of the Mexican and Hispanic culture,” Villagran said.
There are many elements incorporated throughout the celebration of the quinceañera. Some of the main elements include the tiara, the changing of the shoe, and the last doll. The tiara is symbolic of the religion behind the event. This indicates that the girl is a daughter of God.
Throughout the Mass, the priest will refer to the crowns within the Bible. The shoe changing is another way to show that the girl is now becoming a woman. During the reception the father will do the honor of changing the girl’s shoe from a flat to her first pair of high heels. The last doll is given to a young girl within the community. The woman is now putting her childhood aside and preparing to start her journey in womanhood.
Over the years, the celebration’s popularity has increased along with the growth in the Hispanic population. Stores like Imperial Real Boutique located at 101 North Mesa, Street in downtown El Paso, draw many customers from outside of Texas.
“I want to help them by making their wish come true. Sometimes they come in with a sketch or idea, but at some other shops you can’t buy it, you have to make it. Here we make dresses from scratch and we’ll help them design a dress type of their choosing,” Villagran said.
Villagran first got into the business when her mother decided to open a quinceañera shop, which is now a family business. Villagran said the reason El Paso has been very successful is because it is authentic and unique.
“I’ve seen dresses at other places. It’s less expensive here in El Paso compared to Juárez, Mexico. This store has better quality and more fashionable dresses,” a customer at Imperial Real Boutique said.
“I think it’s every girl’s dream to draw a dress they would like or think about a dress. Then they can’t find it because other places don’t do what these stores have. Here we give you that opportunity at a low price. We give the opportunity for each client to either express or design what they want,” Villagran said. “I love it and I love helping them and I’m all for it. I hope that it can continue for as many years as it can. It’s a very beautiful family oriented celebration.”
A Juárez high-school student said that she felt it is important to keep this type of cultural tradition going on for generations and that it is meaningful for her to celebrate a quinceañera. “I feel awesome to have my quince. It’s not only that I’m turning 15, but also that I will be celebrating with my family and in a beautiful dress,” she said.