The quinceañera: Dressed to dazzle for teen milestone

cmeyer@sacbee.comJanuary 21, 2013 

Fourteen-year-old Cassandra Zamora, who is planning her quinceañera celebration in April, was surrounded Sunday by vendors trying to turn her head.

The dazzle of multi-hued ball gowns and DJ beats was familiar to Zamora from watching "My Super Sweet 16" and "Quiero Mis Quinces," TV reality shows focused on elaborate coming-of-age celebrations.

"They give you ideas for themes," the Lincoln High student said.

So did Sunday's Quinceañera Expo at Sacramento's DoubleTree Hotel. The event drew more than 400 people – teens planning 15th-birthday celebrations and family members – to watch a fashion show, sample caterers' entrees, hear DJs spin or sit in a VIP room mock-up.

But the expo's up-to-the-moment ideas were tempered by tradition. Zamora will have a Mass with her quinceañera, just as her mother, Maria, once did as a girl in Mexico.

Her mother's party was not as fancy as the celebrations she sees now, but it was just as much a rite of passage.

"It was such a beautiful experience," said Maria Zamora, 41, who accompanied her daughter to the expo.

It no doubt lacked a white-curtained, white-sofa VIP lounge like the one set up at the expo by DJ El Traviezo of Stockton.

Such features are becoming standard at today's quinceañeras, which can run tens of thousands of dollars, according to Heidi Ramirez of Quinceañera magazine, a twice-yearly publication with a circulation of 25,000 in Northern California and sponsor of Sunday's expo.

Ramirez said quinceañera celebrations, once primarily thrown by Spanish-speaking families, now reach second and third generations and carry on "as a traditional thing, whether or not they speak Spanish." The new generations are eager to merge new trends with centuries-old tradition.

A troubled economy has not cut into the quinceañera market, Ramirez said.

"We think a lot about people losing their jobs, but they still are having their events, even if it is on a really low budget," Ramirez said. "It is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and family will pitch in to make events happen."

The Northern California market is a strong one for the magazine, Ramirez said. The publication's Northern California franchise, now 6 years old, was the first of several for the magazine, which started in Las Vegas.

Potential quinceañera venues such as the Granite Bay Golf Club and Elk Grove Event Center put up stands at the expo. But "some people will have it at their houses," said Ricardo Ascencion, owner of Esmeralda's Bridal Boutique, a Howe Avenue dress shop that does a brisk business in colorful quinceañera dresses.

No matter the size of the celebration, the dress is a mainstay, Ascencion said. At Esmeralda's, they start at about $350 and come in an array of vibrant colors and textures.

Quinceañera dresses, in the past often white or a subtle color, now now come in red, hot pink, gold and purple. Over the past several years, consumers have demanded that "designs, colors and materials be more versatile," said Angel Yan of Mary's Bridal, a dress design house in Houston.

Cassandra Zamora already knows her celebration will have a DJ and will be held in a hall in Lincoln. She was looking for her dress on Sunday. She wanted it to be aqua, she said, and not too poufy – the latter part a tall order, given that most quinceañera dresses come with hoop skirts.

The colors pop, and the material might be gathered into layers resembling roses or feathers, but the dresses' design remains highly traditional. Quinceañera girls still look like fairy princesses.

There was a procession of them Sunday at the expo's fashion show, during which teens, hair piled high and accented by tiaras, modeled the latest dress styles. Most were participants in Quinceañera magazine's "cover girl" contest from last year.

The winner, 16-year-old Victoria Valdivia of Elk Grove, had her own quinceañera celebration more than a year ago. She won a magazine-sponsored pageant last fall and officially became cover girl with Sunday's publication of the magazine's latest issue.

"It's been incredible," Valdivia said of her time as cover girl. "I am so grateful."

It also has allowed her to extend her special moment well past her 15th birthday.

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