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Raw Oyster Marching Club’s shop is a Haute Mess

Karen West, left, Martha Whitney Butler and Noel Allen of the Raw Oyster Marching Club don wigs and regalia in their shop, Haute Mess, in the Bay Emporium in Bay St. Louis.
Karen West, left, Martha Whitney Butler and Noel Allen of the Raw Oyster Marching Club don wigs and regalia in their shop, Haute Mess, in the Bay Emporium in Bay St. Louis. tmsmith@sunherald.com

The Raw Oyster Marching Club likes costumes. They really, really like costumes.

Part of that obsession, of course, is connected to their organization, a group of feisty women who like dressing up in flashy costumes and parading down the streets of Bay St. Louis. But members, as a whole, are also fans of the sparkly.

With closets almost bursting, founder and organizer Martha Whitney Butler and other Raw Oysters decided to open Haute Mess, a costume shop that has other fun things. The shop is on the third floor of the Bay Emporium, 112 S. Second St.

“We don’t really have a place to buy costumes around here,” Butler said as she, Noel Allen and Karen West were putting the finishing touches and more items in the shop. “Biloxi can seem a world away. We dress up — a lot, so we wanted to put these things to good use. We do a lot of appearances at events, and we always dress up for them.”

“And I always wanted to have a boutique,” Allen said.

“This way, you get to do that and keep your day job,” Butler said to her. “We like promoting women in business, too.”

Look around the enclosure and you’ll see racks of costumes for women, men, children and even dogs. There are wigs in the neon shades often associated with the Raw Oysters, a few masks, costume jewelry and fun kitsch, such as a vintage pink aluminum Christmas tree.

The Raw Oysters, about 50 women strong, are about to get uniforms, Butler said, which members will accessorize (excessively, of course) for their appearances. They regularly appear in the Seahorse parade on Lundi Gras, in the Christmas parade, for St. Patrick’s and now, for Pirate Day in the Bay.

Haute Mess will have its grand opening from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday during Second Saturday.

“We’ll be here in costume Saturday,” Butler assured.

The Raw Oyster Marching Club has grown from an informal group of women who decided to march in the 2015 Krewe of the Seahorse parade and honor Kitty West, better known as the legendary performer Evangeline the Oyster Girl. The Raw Oysters danced to the song “Fireball.” In fact, the glittery red and yellow flames that decorate Haute Mess are from that first outing.

“We’re a diverse group of women. We have artists and scientists and all in between,” Butler said. “All ages, all different life backgrounds.”

The Oysters are known for their dance routines but also two prized throws — well, they don’t throw them. Think of these as their version of Zulu’s coconuts or Muses’ decorated shoes.

“We all do hand-painted oyster shells, but our even bigger throw is the hatchet,” Butler said.

The decorated golden hatchets or tomahawks are a good-natured nod to a story connected to West and another Bourbon Street performer.

In 1949, Life magazine published a story about West smashing the water tank of another performer with an axe. West felt the upstart performer was stealing her thunder, according to the story, so she destroyed the other performer’s equipment while she was still in it.

The magazine writer was in the audience the night this happened. Over the years, there’s been speculation this was a publicity stunt. Whatever the backstory, it’s a fun vignette and inspiration for the Oysters.

The group is accepting applications for membership through Oct. 1 at http://www.romcbsl.org.

Shop hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tammy Smith: 228-896-2130, @Simmiefran1

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