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On Memorial Day weekend 2011, my groom and I joined hands, entwined bootlaces and shared a single bean in matrimony at what very well may be the first hobo-themed wedding. We invited our friends and family to share in our happiest of days, wear their shabbiest, drink moonshine, eat their fill of BBQ and pie, dance to a live jug band and howl at the moon.
As we began planning our wedding 15 months earlier, Brian and I knew we didn’t want to follow tradition. Neither of us is religious and our families are very fun, easygoing folks, so we immediately took the rule book and threw it out the window. Though some of the details fell into place quickly, the “Depression-era hobo” theme of our wedding didn’t come to us right away. In fact, it was my obsession with the 1930s, the “great recession,” our own limited budget and, finally, a suggestion from Brian’s grandma, Rose, that planted the tiny seed of the idea into our heads.
Rose told us about her own wedding reception in the 1940s. They called it a “football party” because, instead of a fancy catered dinner, the guests were served piles of wrapped sandwiches in the center of each table and they tossed them from table to table like footballs. Something about the spirit of that back-to-basics kind of reception got to us (and made our bellies rumble for sandwiches). We wanted to create an event that was unfussy, honest, beautiful, fun and, most importantly, from the heart. Just like Rose’s sandwiches!
Once the theme was decided, we got to work researching the Depression era and hobo culture. As we prepared to make everything for our wedding, we collected feed sack dresses and old work boots, antique hand-stitched quilts and jug band instruments. After reading that the word “hobo” may be a syllabic abbreviation of “homeward bound,” we fell in love with the notion. Brian was in charge of illustrating and designing our save-the-date postcards, creating custom labels for our party favors (mini-flasks of “moonshine”) and our wedding invitations, and writing the ceremony from scratch. I was in charge of creating the atmosphere of the event: putting together our hobo-chic outfits, the outfits for our wedding party, the wedding décor, flower arrangements, bindle bouquets and boutonnieres.
I purchased most of the authentic Depression-era garments on Etsy. For starters, I wore a ruffled cotton voile dress from My Favorite Vintage, a vintage millinery crown by Little Deer Handmade and delicate cutout oxfords from The Exhausted Etiquette Vintage. My maid of honor and twin sister, Maggie (a.k.a. “The Bad Twin”), wore one-of-a-kind feed sack overalls by Closet Case Vintage and a sheer pink pintucked blouse from Greatest Friend.
My mom, Cindy (a.k.a. “Record Lady”), wore a hand-embroidered orange checkered dress with a raggedy hemline by Maria of Adelaide’s Homesewn as she walked me down the aisle. Both of my bridesmaids’ dresses were from Etsy, too! Brian’s sister, Jenny, wore a dress by 1385 and my sister, Lindsey, wore a dress by Jennie’s Junque. I also found perfectly worn quilts that I cut for table runners and buntings, tiered tin can caddies for dried flower arrangements, custom bandana bowties for the groom and groomsmen and my little knotted string wedding band.
As most couples do, we busted our butts for months before the wedding. However, we couldn’t have pulled it off on our own. We had the help of our amazing friends and family all along the way: my mom spent months redecorating and readying her home to host the big event; Brian’s mom’s partner, Diane, handcrafted clever wind chimes out of thrift store cutlery to decorate the yard; and Maggie helped my mom, sister Lindsey and cousin Justine cut and assemble vintage quilt buntings to decorate our tent.
My mom’s best friends made our cocktail hour snacks — brown bags of popcorn and burlap sacks of peanuts, complete with hobo signs. Brian’s sister and bridesmaid, Jenny, recruited her boyfriend Jim and his musician friends to play some old-timey tunes. Maria connected me with our amazing photographer, Chelsea Donoho, who came all the way from Kansas City. She captured the wedding so beautifully in exchange for a meager round-trip plane ticket and a place to stay. And finally, the wedding wouldn’t have been the success it was without the incredible participation of every single one of our guests who played along and donned their hobo best!
About the authors: Sarah is an admissions counselor at Moore College of Art & Design, an artist, and textile designer. She also sells vintage and handmade items in her two Etsy shops, Mouse Trap Vintage and SquidWhale Designs. She is inspired by old, time-worn objects and American folk art. She spends much of her time hunting for unique curios. Brian (affectionately known as “Box”) is a full-time cartoonist/part-time alt-comics publisher with a stinging wit and a certain tolerance for Sarah’s junk-collecting. What the couple has in common is their sense of humor, their love for their two cats, Buster and Louis, and their shallow pockets.
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