You can see the bee's knees

Historic Galveston Island Beach Revue Celebrates Centennial Online

Don't worry, the annual vintage swimsuit competition has made the virtual leap.

By Isabella Goodman July 31, 2020

if all those comparative memes haven't given it away, 1920 and 2020 have more in common than you’d think—a global pandemic, massive social change, and lots of closed bars. But, most importantly, they both have the Galveston Island Beach Revue. On August 1, the Galveston Historical Foundation celebrates the 100th anniversary of this quintessentially Texas seaside event, and they’re doing it in true 2020 fashion: by hosting it all virtually.

“When we have the physical event, you've got a lot of people dancing and dressed up, old cars,” says Will Wright, chief creative officer of the GHF. “It’s a visual event, and we’ve tried to pull out all the stops to translate that to an online event this year.”

In case you’ve been slacking on your summer-school history, in 1920—the dawn of the Roaring Twenties—Galveston, still reeling from the Hurricane of 1900, held a swimsuit contest in an attempted tourism boost (pretty girls showing off more than their ankles, my word). The beauty contest, then dubbed the “Pageant of Pulchritude,” was a massive success, quickly becoming a tradition for the island. Like most stories of the Jazz Age, the Great Depression put a stop to the Galveston Bathing Beauties pageants, but the event was resurrected in 2009—after yet another devastating hurricane, no less—and, though nearly 90 years had passed since that initial swimsuit contest, the newly reimagined Galveston Island Beach Revue emerged as a celebration of the city’s history in all its vintage splendor.

“You cannot go anywhere else and see the Beach Revue,” says Wright. “It is specific to Galveston now; it is identifiable with Galveston now. The physical location that we usually have it in is right across the street from where it was traditionally held, the Hotel Galvez, so it is literally in the footsteps of where it was in the ’20s.” 

Of course, the two-day festival, moved from its usual slot in May and now packed into just two hours, will be a bit different this year. Contestants will don their best parasols, victory curls, and swimsuits in video segments, with the judges and audience alike viewing remotely, as part of the Revue’s seminal event. The classic car show has also gone online, so the usual rat rods and vintage trailers will now parade along your screen in the form of owner-submitted photos.

There’ll also be a special slideshow featuring never-before-seen photos from the 1926 swimsuit contest, performances from Matt Tolentino, Gin Minsky, and Dandy Wellington—it wouldn’t be a Beach Revue without Dandy, says Wright—and, since every hoppin' shindig starts with some good giggle water, Brad Stringer, owner of Daiquiri Time Out, will be teaching viewers all about the Beach Revue’s specialty cocktail, the Mary Pickford.

So, slip into that old flapper dress you have lying around, cause this event’s going to be the bee’s knees. If you post your art deco-inspired outfit online with the tag #BeachRevue, you might just win this year’s “Best Vintage Dressed” sash. How ducky.

Aug 1, 2-4 p.m. Free. Online. More info at galvestonhistory.

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