Putting real beauty on show

By philip
17 February 2013

The Spring Queen pageant is far removed from the world of international glitz, feminist protests, big bucks and golf tours, reports Brent Meersman about this local highlight.

Few people haven’t heard of the Miss World beauty pageant. The globally telecast media event is fed by 130 national franchises. When the last one was hosted in Johannesburg, it cost ratepayers tens of millions of rands.

But how many South Africans, or indeed Capetonians, are aware of the annual Spring Queen pageant, which has been going on for more than three decades on their doorstep?


Far removed from the world of international glitz, feminist protests, big bucks and golf tours, this unique event is staged by women factory workers in the clothing and textile industry in the Western Cape.

Starting in late June and early July every year, up to 60 factories hold in-house pageants to elect their queen, who represents them at the semi­finals at the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union hall at its head office in Salt River.

The competition culminates in November with an entertainment-filled final event in the Good Hope Centre, where the coveted title of Spring Queen: the Queen of Queens, is bestowed, along with a First and Second Princess, a Miss Personality and a Miss Best Dressed. At the finale, contestants show off their ballgowns, but there is also a casual-wear event in which clothing from local, sponsoring factories is modelled.

Now, the Centre for Curating the Archive at the University of Cape Town has gathered, and in some cases rescued, private and public collections from the pageants to put on exhibition.

The curators Siona O’Connell and Dale Washkansky acknowledge that pageants may objectify and dehumanise women, that they promote oppressive and stereotyped notions of beauty, and that, during apartheid, they served to distract and patronise workers while their labour was exploited. However, the exhibition “interrogates ways in which people wished to see themselves above how they were represented by others”.

Spring Queen: the staging of the Glittering Proletariat is at the District Six Museum Homecoming Centre, 15 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town. Open from 10am to 4pm from Monday to Saturday.

Full story by Brent Meersman in Mail & Guardian: Putting real beauty on show | Arts and Culture | Art and Design | Mail & Guardian.