Times have certainly changed. Check out this photo from 1960. I found it while going through my parents’ old photo albums—black and white shots attached to black pages with sticky fasteners on the corners. It was taken at my Uncle Bob Avina’s wedding reception at St. Lucy’s Church in Campbell, California.
I was eight years old, awed by all the glamour of the gowns and tuxedos that day. Somewhere in that church hall, I sat primly with my parents, wearing a dress, hat, and buckled-on shoes with lacy white socks. My little brother, with his spiky crew cut, black slacks and white shirt, would have been looking for trouble with the younger male cousins. To me, the older people were just . . . old people. My grandmother was one of seven siblings, so there were a lot of aunts and uncles, plus their spouses and their offspring, who also seemed old to me.
Pictured here in the front row are, from left to right, Uncle Ollie and Aunt Nellie (Souza) McKee, Aunt Mamie and Uncle Ted Souza, and Aunt Edna Souza. That’s probably Uncle Tony next to her. In the back row, I can see my mother’s cousin Lorraine and her sister Addie.
I note Uncle Ted’s happy-to-pose expression and Aunt Mamie’s I-do-not-like-having-my-picture-taken face. But I’m especially impressed by the way they’re dressed. When we think of the ’60s, we think of love beads and mini-skirts, but in 1960, the grownups, at least the working class Portuguese American ones I grew up around, dressed up like this. Ladies always wore modest dresses, girdles and nylons, and high-heeled dress shoes. In this case, the shoes all have a little opening for the toes. Those were bloody uncomfortable, I can testify.
White gloves were a necessary accessory, along with the clutch purse. All the women wore hats. We weren’t allowed to walk into a Catholic church without one. Aunt Nellie, the youngest and most stylish of the Souza siblings, went big with her hat, and, if you look closely, on her lap, she’s got a mink stole, which if I remember correctly, had little heads and feet attached. Gross!
In most cases, the curly hair came from a home perm. Anybody remember the Toni home perm? What a stinky mess. Between perms, I wore curlers to bed every night until I rebelled in my teens. Somehow curly hair was good; straight hair was bad.
I am sure some of the aunts needed glasses but wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them in public. Ah, vanity. Many years later, when I married my first husband at St. Martin’s in San Jose, I handed my glasses to Aunt Nellie at the last minute before the ceremony. I had a heck of a time getting them back from her afterward. She didn’t understand that it was more important to me to see than to look good.
You can’t see it in the photo, but I’m sure the air was rich with the women’s perfume and the men’s aftershave. One didn’t go out unscented in those days. Now everyone, including me, screams “allergies!”
Do you wear perfume or cologne?
Except for the little girl whose barrette you can see in the center of the back row, everyone in that photo has passed away. Aunt Edna on the right made it to 100 years old. Like me, she was a widow for a long time, and she never had children. I wish I had gotten to know all of them better, but back then, they were old people, and I was a child. If only I could assemble the crowd at that wedding and talk to them grownup-to-grownup. I did interview Aunt Nellie and Aunt Edna for my book about Portuguese women, Stories Grandma Never Told, but I know so much more about life now.
If the wedding were taking place today, we’d see women in slacks or maybe in dresses but with no girdles, no stockings, no gloves, no hats, no home perms, and no real fur stoles. The older men would drag out their suits, but the younger ones might not bother. In fact, there might be people of both genders wearing jeans. We’re more inclined to comfort these days, but back in the olden days when we dressed up, we DRESSED UP.
Please share your thoughts and memories in the comments.