The Unimpressed Bridesmaid


We spend a lot of time at auctions, flea markets, antique stores looking at toys. LOTS of toys. Dan may not want to admit it, but there are other cool old things out there that weren’t made in the 1980’s by Kenner, Hasbro or Mattel (blasphemy, I know). See, Dan and I approach the flea market differently. He makes a bee-line for certain vendor-friends he wants to check in with first and then sprints through the whole thing before I’ve made it two rows. I know it’s incredibly frustrating for him, but I’m more of a “poker”.  I smile and say hello to folks (no, I don’t necessarily KNOW them. So what? It never hurts to be nice) I look under and behind tables, dig through boxes and consider things I’ve never seen before. I spend a couple extra minutes taking in my surroundings.

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It could have been any morning strolling through the tables of old rusty tools, VHS tapes and knock-off Coach bags that I saw my first one. Actually, I’m sure I had seen them before, but never really took the time to realize what I was looking at: boxes of antique photographs; old pictures of people I don’t know; homes I’ve never been in and places I’ve never visited.

I have always loved the smell of old paper (doesn’t everyone?). You know: that slightly musty “I’ve been in the basement for decades” smell? Old book store? Yes, please. Yellowed newspaper? Perfect. So a box of old photos has that going for them. I started thinking about who these people were. There were black and white baby photos, sepia toned wedding pictures, and lots of what looked like senior portraits for the cast of “Grease”. How had this entire banana box of family history made it to the flea market?

I asked the vendor where he had picked them up and he replied that they were being thrown away and didn’t know any more than that. Huh. He saw that I was more than passingly interested in them and threw out a price (wait, what? I thought you just said these were trash). Luckily, we made a deal for the whole box and I was the new owner of someone else’s family tree.

“What are you going to do with them?” was Dan’s immediate question. He had every right to wonder, because I didn’t have a real “plan” I just thought it was interesting and sad that these images and memories weren’t going to be loved by the family they belonged to any longer. Maybe the descendants didn’t even know these existed. Maybe there was no heir to continue caring for them. Maybe these were the copies that a long estranged branch of the family had in their possession and the oral history had been lost therefore they had no value even of a sentimental kind.  I personally have many generations of professional photographs and snapshots that belong to my family. I feel a connection more than kinship with many great-greats that I never met because of them. As I began sorting this box, I started to feel connected to this new family too. It was neat.

Over time I continued to find old boxes of photos sometimes in my price range, many times not.  I found that I was really drawn to and struck by the elaborately decorated folders that some of the oldest and fanciest photos were presented in. The baby photos and wedding portraits in particular were in these matted folios which both served to protect the images but also to enhance the formality. They were stunning. Beautiful cream, tri-folded, with gold art-deco styled lines. Opulent nouveau mats in khaki and olive green with embossed fleur-de-lis. Deckled edges, elegant tissue paper inserts and built in easel backs. UGH, superfluous beauty from a day gone by and certainly thought of as secondary in importance to the images that they so perfectly matched. These folios began to be my passion and what I was looking at entirely when I would scour the boxes.


Soon, I had collected maybe 2 dozen of these photos and folios which Dan also appreciated for their beauty and we had an idea. We had just begun planning for our own wedding and how cool would it be to use the folio parts for our invitations? Very cool, we thought. Over the next (we’ll just say it was a while) we started looking for the folios in earnest. We even purchased some online! Eventually we had enough to hand-make an individual invitation for each of our guests.

our invits

Our wedding day has come and gone and now I find myself with a pile of antique photographs (most are folio-less, of course). I certainly can’t just dispose of them. Yes, they served my purpose but now I feel as though I owe them a little something more. Dignity? Posterity? A story? Hopefully this little blog of mine will serve as some, if not all of those things. Give back a little to these faces that I’ve been looking at for a while now and maybe tell a bit of their story again…



The Unimpressed Bridesmaid-

Upon first glance a lovely, 1930’s (ish) wedding portrait of the Bride and Groom and their attendants. What a simply stunning Bride. That dress is so timeless that something very similar can certainly be found in bridal salons today.

Everyone is looking dapper in their formalwear, and smiles for miles. They are a happy group celebrating the future of their loved ones. However, looking more closely you’ll probably see something else… 33% of the folks in this shot actually don’t look all that joyous. In fact, Ms. Bridesmaid to the Left looks like she just ate a bug. Her counterpart groomsman doesn’t look all that excited to be there either.

I’m left wondering what the back story here is. Without knowing exactly when this photo is from, (I am NOT a fashion expert by any stretch of the imagination… please forgive me for that!) and no other context clues to give a hand, I’m left guessing. Is there depression related financial unhappiness here or perhaps wartime resentment because someone else’s beloved is across the sea? Perhaps the pair on the left don’t particularly care for each other, or is it just the normal pettiness that can come from blending even the most stable of families?

I’ll never know, I suppose. What I’m hoping is that it’s not that Ms. Bridesmaid to the Left is unhappy with anything that is going on; it’s just that at this second she realized that her shoes were incredibly uncomfortable and her toes are hurting.  She’s TRYING to smile! We’ve all been there, right?