Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Sack Cloth Fashion

Feed sack of the type used for clothing.  Found on Wikimedia Commons
Feed sack of type used to make clothing.
(Wikimedia Commons).
Normally, I don't read or write much about clothing in modern times.  It usually does not interest me as much as trying to plumb the mysteries of vanished Viking costume, or admiring the graceful drape of ancient Roman clothing or of the full heavy gowns of Europe's high Middle Ages.  But this week I found an interesting article in Piecework magazine's new, online newsletter that I think is worth sharing with my readers.

It's an article about the clothing Americans made with used feed and flour sacks during the period from the 1910s to the 1950s. Most of this clothing was made during the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s, when money was dear, everyone was suffering together, and if you had to spend money on anything you wanted to get as much for it as possible.   The article may be read here; it's likely you will need to create a login to read it, but doing so is free of charge.  You can create your login here.

In our present age of disposable packaging (light cardboard, easy to tear paper or plastic) it's hard to imagine making anything out of feed sack material that anyone would be willing to wear.  But the feed sacks of the time were made from good quality cloth, usually cottons--osnaburg, sheeting, percale, muslin.  The lighter sacks (used for flour) made good underwear, while the stronger feed bags were used for shirts, dresses, aprons, trousers.  The design of the resulting garments, of course, was limited only by the imagination and skill of the woman doing the sewing, and the number of feed sacks available to her.

Originally, all such sacks were white, and women who were not willing to clothe their families entirely in white would dye them.  But by the mid-1920s manufacturers printed labels in ink that could be washed out, or on separate labels that could be removed, and they began making the bags out of gingham or good quality prints that would not look out of place when the sacks were used as clothing.  The Piecework article starts with a nice photograph of a young girl in a feed sack dress.  

Manufacturers continued to make feed sacks from patterned cloth into the 1950s, but by that time World War II rationing was over and the Great Depression was at best a fading memory for many.  In the post-war era of prosperity, women could afford to buy fabric intended for home sewing of clothes, or even ready-made clothes themselves.  By the early 1960s, the day of feed sack fashion was over.  

The article is nicely illustrated, well-written, and has its own bibliography.  I recommend it to readers interested in the clothing of early 20th century America.


  1. Some time ago, I wanted to include one of those in a HSM blog post for a Re-Use challenge, and had trouble finding an extant or freely available photo from the HSM era. :-) It's a fascinating history.

    1. I also found some vintage items on Etsy that were described as being from sack cloth. Judging by the pictures, they might be. I didn't want to use those items, though, because they are advertising for people's products, and I didn't want to trigger any potential legal issues.