Feed Sack Fashion: Dresses Made from Flour Sack Prints During Great Depression

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Desperate times call for desperate measures and few times in our nation’s long history have been as trying as the days of the 1930’s during America’s Great Depression.

With cotton at a premium and money scarce, the citizens of America’s heartland and Appalachian Mountains found themselves with few options with regards to clothing their growing children in the days leading up to the Second World War.

Ultimately, relief came from a very unsuspecting place: the heavy feed and flour sacks that served as the staple product purchased by rural America.

Soon, mothers from rural-Virginia to the Great Plains were cutting the empty sacks into patterns, sewing them into dresses and pants for their needy sons and daughters.  They weren’t pretty, but the flour sacks served a much-needed purpose.

Though a great example of American ingenuity, the idea of turning flour sacks into clothes was not an American invention.

As early as 1904, Chinese peasants had been wearing trousers made from flour sacks, garnering the outfits the humble title of “hunger clothes.”

Once American flour companies caught wind of the fact that their bags were being used to clothe children, they began printing the sacks with various patterns that would make for pretty dresses and soon, mother’s were basing their flour purchases based upon the prints of the bag.

Kendra Brandes of Bradley University writes, “The recycling of cotton feed sacks into apparel and household items was a common practice across rural America during the first half of the twentieth century. This creative recycling of a utilitarian fabric has, until recently, been omitted from histories of American fashion because the practice centered on fabric use rather than new garment styles, and because the farm wife of rural America was not considered to be a source of fashion inspiration… However, it is the activities of these farm wives, clothing their families in feed sacks, that offer a view of life that was unique to rural communities during this time period.”

Though born of necessity, the wearing of feed sacks proved to be one of the defining character builders of a generation that would ultimately defeat Hitler, land a man on the moon and overcome one of the worst economic depressions the world has ever known.  Well done, mom!

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  1. My grandmother from the midwest left behind a beautiful quilt given to her for her wedding in 1929 that was made from flour sacks. It was lovely and I still have it. I was able to use it for many years but it has gotten to frail for that.

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