The Fascinating History of Flour Sack Dresses
In the 1920s and early 1930s, families were growing larger than ever as they spread out across the country; however, when the Depression hit, things like new clothes for their growing children became less important than food and shelter! In those days, flour and feed sacks were made of cotton, and when the manufacturers saw that women were using the cotton fabric to make dresses and other items for the family, they stepped up and began printing the fabrics with colorful patterns!
The photo above from LIFE Magazine shows a shipper picking up some of the patterned bags.
In this image from the LIFE Magazine Archives, a worker for the Sunbonnet Sue Flour company prepares one of the pattern bags to be loaded with flour. In the foreground, you see some of the static patterns; however, you'll notice that the man is holding a cutout pattern for what appears to be a stuffed bunny rabbit! How cool!
As this idea spread, publications popped up that showed specific patterns and interesting things that could be made with the fabric. Many of the manufacturers made the fabric so that the ink could be washed out with some vigorous washing, and they printed instructions for this right on the sacks themselves, as seen below...
As the Great Depression gave way to World War II, families extended out this commitment to ingenuity and thriftiness, and sack dresses became something not just for the impoverished families, but everyone. Images like the one above that show well-to-do women in the dresses helped advance this.
Manufacturers made a point to produce many different patterns and colors so as to appeal to both men and women, boys and girls. This even caused some creative competition between companies as they tried to out-do each other as they took pride in seeing their fabrics used by their customers. Here are a few of our favorite patterns from that era...
Ready for Anything. This photo shows two sisters in their sack dresses who have even helped make dresses for their dolls! It was truly an era where you did what you had to!