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Brenda Ray Coffee, Mistress of Ceremonies, Fiesta's Cornyation @1995. Photos by Rob Beach
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Every year my hometown of San Antonio throws a mean party. Fiesta is a 10-day celebration attended by 3.5 million people from around the world. Fiesta first began in the late 1800’s to honor the heroes of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto. The entire city practically shuts down. Daily there are private and public events—fueled by music, margaritas and fajitas—including a day parade, a night parade and one that floats on barges down the San Antonio River. One of the most popular events is Cornyation, a bawdy spoof of Fiesta’s “royalty” that includes King Antonio, a Queen and her Court, all chosen from old San Antonio families. Tickets for Cornyation’s three-day, four-show event—downtown at the historic, 856-seat Empire Theatre—sell out in a few hours… faster than any other Fiesta event.

For almost 10 years, I was Mistress of Ceremonies of Cornyation which meant I was onstage, with a microphone, the entire show. Some years I also wrote the script.

Cornyation is attended by everyone from the Mayor, the Spurs, celebrities who happen to be in town, to anyone who loves a good time. Some years fans brought me roses and placed them on the edge of the stage. One year someone brought me a rhinestone tiara. I’ve been stopped in Barnes & Noble and restaurants around town and asked for my autograph. I thought they were joking, but they weren’t! At an art gallery cocktail reception someone introduced themselves and said they’d heard I was brought in from Los Angeles every year to do the show! Another person asked if I was the “Queen of Fiesta?” I had to laugh and say I was simply a performer (Drama scholarship to college) who loved being onstage and didn’t mind making a fool of myself.

In the beginning I pulled my own costumes together, like the one in the photographs. Here I wore a Mariachi sombrero I’d added ribbons and paper flowers to the brim; a serape I bought in college; a Danskin’s bodysuit; black velvet leggings, pinky/gold, Dior, snakeskin heels, and I carried a pottery piggy bank I bought at the Mexican market as my purse. I may have been campy, but I was always elegant.

As time went on, I had a woman make my costumes. I love hats, so one year she made me a gold crown studded with huge Swarovski crystals, interspersed with giant, red, crystal jalapeños! That was the year James and I started seeing one another, and I invited him to come backstage before the show.

Sometimes I shared a dressing room with “The Pointless Sisters,” an all male, gay group who were hysterical and had such creative costumes. When one of the six-foot “guys,” wearing eyelashes and falsies, poked his head in the dressing room and asked me, “Does the hunk out here with the cheekbones belong to you? You better come get him, honey, before someone else does,” I knew James had arrived.

While James was the antithesis of a prude, this West Texas boy, raised in the Church of Christ, looked like a deer caught in the headlights. I found him standing just inside the back stage door, his eyes the size of flour tortillas. Needless to say, that was the only time he came to Cornyation.

One of the great things about Fiesta is how everyone dresses up for the events. Hats are usually involved.

Photo from the Fiesta Association.

Here’s a photo of me and my girlfriend, Gayle, a few years ago at the Battle of Flowers Parade. It’s so hot we both had hats and umbrellas! I’m wearing my favorite all natural straw Patricia Underwood hat. I’d had that hat for years before this photo was taken and still have it. If you buy a well made hat (sorry, but they’re the most expensive) and take good care of it–hold it by the crown, not the brim, and store it upside down with the brim stuffed with paper–you’ll have it forever.

If you want to keep the sun off your face and neck, the bigger the brim the better! Baseball caps may be cute, but they don’t protect you from the sun. Many women think they don’t look good in hats but the trick is to pull them down low on your forehead. If you just plop a hat on the top of your head, you’ll look like a dunce! Look at the photo of me at the parade: You can tell my hat is low on my forehead because I had to tilt my head back so the camera could see my eyes. The same goes for the sombrero.

Whether it’s hot where you are or you want to make a fashion statement at your next festive event, here are some great summer hats! Never wear hats? Try my trick of pulling them down low on your forehead.


  • Jen June 30, 2017 at 5:20 am

    You look fabulous! What a fun event. I’m sure you were a scream as MC. XO

    • 1010ParkPlace June 30, 2017 at 4:03 pm

      The whole event is a scream!! Thanks Jen! xoxox, Brenda

  • Tara Dillard June 30, 2017 at 6:34 am

    Brava !!!!

    • 1010ParkPlace June 30, 2017 at 4:03 pm

      Thank you, Tara! xoxox, Brenda

  • Beckye June 30, 2017 at 7:34 am

    You continue to amaze! What a fabulous life the Lord has given you! I’m sure you were wonderful at Fiesta! Thanks for the reminder about summer hats!

    • 1010ParkPlace June 30, 2017 at 4:05 pm

      Thank you, sweet lady! God has indeed blessed me beyond all reason, and I’m so very grateful. I’ve had an interesting life, that’s for sure. xoxox, Brenda

  • Donna O'Klock June 30, 2017 at 9:02 am

    Oh, the places you’ve gone and the things that you’ve done!! What fun, Brenda… what fun!

    • 1010ParkPlace June 30, 2017 at 4:05 pm

      It’s been a blast, my friend! Thank you, Brenda

  • Diane June 30, 2017 at 9:38 am

    And Now I want to go to Fiesta! Is the new MC as gorgeous and charming?

    • 1010ParkPlace June 30, 2017 at 4:07 pm

      You’re sweet! Would you believe I haven’t been in about 10 years, so I don’t know what’s happening with Cornyation. xoxox, Brenda

  • Barbara June 30, 2017 at 10:09 am

    I love hats and a good party! Looks like this fits both. Never been to TX but, if I ever do go I want to go to San Antonio, mostly to visit you.

    • 1010ParkPlace June 30, 2017 at 4:08 pm

      Wouldn’t that be fun? This time I won’t have to hire a driver to take us around the city! Come see me! I’d love that! xoxox, Brenda

  • Mamavalveeta03 June 30, 2017 at 10:22 am

    You’ve got the best stories, Brenda! Who knew that this one was going to end up being a post on summer hats?!?! 🙂
    What great photos you have (hottie!)!
    P.S. What do you do if you’ve got a big head? I have a men’s fedora, but it doesn’t keep the sun off of my face. And my large brimmed straw one is about to give up the ghost!

    • 1010ParkPlace June 30, 2017 at 4:21 pm

      Thank you, Val. Big heads are difficult to fit. Have you tried googling “women’s straw hats and large sizes or large heads”? Or google hat shops and “custom hats” in NYC. There’s bound to be numerous places that will make you a hat–or steam an existing one larger. I’ve had that done. I looked up patriciaunderwood.com and her instagram page for this post, but it’s not current. I measured my head and she made the straw hat in the above picture for me. It still looks brand new even after all the sun and sweat. Earlier this year I bought a Gladys Tamez straw hat with a big brim and a black ribbon and love it although it’s too small. I have the opposite problem you do. Tiny head… You know what that means! Little brain! I put something between the inside band and the hat to make it larger. http://www.gladystamez.com xoxox, Brenda

      • 1010ParkPlace June 30, 2017 at 5:01 pm

        Val, Look at Gladys Tamez!! They do custom hats by head size. Beautiful. xoxox, Brenda

  • Stephanie Weaver, MPH, CWHC June 30, 2017 at 10:55 am

    What a fun post and a lovely experience! I have never heard of this event!

    • 1010ParkPlace June 30, 2017 at 4:56 pm

      Fiesta is huge! Literally the entire city shuts down: doctors, offices, the plumber. Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate it, Brenda

  • Charlesñjoycee Silverman June 30, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Thank you for saying how a hat should be worn…i cant tell you how many time in one day someone feels the necessity to push my hat up! Get your stinkin hands off my hat! Geez

    • 1010ParkPlace June 30, 2017 at 4:58 pm

      You’re funny! I have the urge to pull lots of hats down lower, but stop myself and don’t say anything. xoxox, Brenda

  • Chuky Reyna June 30, 2017 at 8:40 pm

    I love this post and your costume was pure perfection. Xoxo

    • 1010ParkPlace July 2, 2017 at 8:02 am

      Thank you, Chuky! I always had fun putting it together. xoxo, Brenda

  • Joyce Sullivan July 1, 2017 at 7:20 am

    Now I know how to properly wear a hat! Plus, how much fun to read about your costume and stage adventures. Wonderful !

    • 1010ParkPlace July 2, 2017 at 8:07 am

      Terrific! I’ve noticed all the 20-something girls wear their hats on the back of their heads. That’s the style these days, but for me… Just doesn’t look right. xoxox, Brenda

  • Linda July 1, 2017 at 11:29 am

    This looks like so much fun, and your pictures are beautiful! I’m short so wide-brimmed hats make me look like a mushroom. I do love them, though.

    • 1010ParkPlace July 2, 2017 at 8:08 am

      LOL! I can see where that would be a problem, but you can still wear hats. Just make sure you pull them down low enough on your forehead. Thank you, Linda! Brenda

  • Esther Zimmer July 3, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    Love, love, love this! Your outfit is gorgeous but that pig as a purse? I’m dying with delight! Essie xx

  • 1010ParkPlace July 3, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    Oh, good! I was hoping someone would appreciate my piggy purse! When you carry it like a purse, everyone assumes that’s what it is! xoxox, Brenda

  • tikaa July 3, 2017 at 10:59 pm

    Brenda, What a honor!!!!! I love SA and couldn’t be a prouder Texan, but WOW Mistress of Ceremonies ( that is beyond cool). I’d love to meet up sometimes, two Texas women making their way. email me [email protected]

    • Brenda Coffee July 4, 2017 at 9:48 am

      Hi Tikaa! So happy to meet you online! I need to make a trip to Houston, but haven’t gotten the details straightened away. Would love for you to take me shopping at some of your favorite boutiques. We could do a post about that. What do you think? Brenda

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