May 6, 2021
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first_imgWhen the Great Depression hit America, millions of people were forced to rely on their wits to survive. From the end of the “Roaring Twenties” through to the conclusion of the Thirties, the nation was reeling from the impact of the Stock Market Crash. wrote that “By 1933, when the Great Depression reached its lowest point, some 15 million Americans were unemployed and nearly half the country’s banks had failed.”With everything except misery in short supply, making do was the only option. Clothes were a classic example. Fashion was by far the first consideration — yet there was already something in place to ensure that clothes could be made from things lying around the house.An impoverished American family living in a shanty, 1936Going back almost a hundred years before the time of the Depression, a change happened in the way goods were transported. Potatoes, flour and animal feed had previously traveled the world in barrels. Now, for reasons of cost, the sturdy wooden containers were replaced with fabric sacks.Companies then observed the sacks being recycled as clothes and decided to market these unlikely objects as possible fashion items. Sacks would arrive ready-printed with attractive images like sunshine and flowers.A group of smiling female workers pose with sacks of flour in the grounds of a British mill during the First World WarAs a 2017 article for noted, “By 1925, at least one company, Gingham Girl flour, packaged its goods in dress-quality fabric and used its sacks as a selling point. By the Depression years, printed sacks were widely reused.”Dresses and other creations were worked on by enterprising families. The National Museum of American History wrote that “With feed sacks and flour bags, farm women took thriftiness to new heights of creativity, transforming the humble bags into dresses, underwear, towels, curtains, quilts, and other household necessities.”Children’s clothing made from flour sacksThere was the tricky matter of the manufacturer’s name to consider. Slate mentions a booklet titled Sewing with Cotton Bags, produced by The Textile Bag Manufacturers Association in 1933, which was “advising consumers how to get company logos out of sacks.”For example “you had to soak the logo’s ink in lard or kerosene overnight. By the late 1930s, companies began to use soluble inks that made the process much easier.”Circa 1939: Workers filling colorfully printed flour sacks which housewives use to make dresses because the labels wash out, at Sunbonnet Sue flour mill. Photo by Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesSo eventually there was far more to the humble potato sack than a means of shipping spuds. The style endures into the modern day vintage market, though it shouldn’t be forgotten that its origins lie in a period of unimaginable hardship.Embroidered Flour Sack Photo by Kansas Historical Society“For many women in rural America,” Slate said, “use of these sacks for clothing was a mark of poverty. Soaking off logos, dying fabrics, and using embellishments of ribbon, rickrack, embroidery, and decorative buttons helped make the feed sack dress or shirt less distinguishable from ‘store bought’ garments.”Warehouse worker wheeling colorfully printed flour sacks which housewives use to make dresses because the labels wash out, at Sunbonnet Sue flour mill. Photo by Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesRelated Video: California Rodeo at Salinas in 1935:Quoted is an off-color joke made by a company manager after the Depression in 1946, which went, “They used to say that when the wind blew across the South you could see our trade name on all the girls’ underpants”.Bakery Company men wearing an old flour sack (Reeve 014803). Photo by National Museum of Health and Medicine CC BY SA 2.0The Depression ended, but not before the national psyche had been forever scarred. And there was an intriguing footnote to the story of sack fabric “fashion”, involving a true American icon.In a famous photo from 1951, Marilyn Monroe posed wearing a burlap potato sack. The reason this happened is still debated. One version of the tale goes that a prudish female journalist had deemed Monroe to be far from classy, and better suited to wearing a sack.Marilyn Monroe poses for a portrait in a dress made out of an Idaho potato sack in 1951 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Earl Theisen/Getty ImagesThe actress obliged, and Twentieth Century Fox were happy to set up the publicity-attracting snap. A different take claims a comment that Marilyn’s beauty would improve even a potato sack was the source of the bizarre picture. Despite the Hollywood mischief-making, there was a serious social undercurrent even years after the wrote in a 2018 piece that “According to Monroe, the photos were so successful that an Idaho potato farmer actually sent her a whole sack of potatoes as a thank you for the generous publicity, but Monroe apparently never got to enjoy them, saying: ‘There was a potato shortage on then, and the boys in publicity stole them all. I never saw one.’”Read another story from us: Great Depression Grub – 5 Makeshift Meals People Made when Food was ScarceAn ironic development in a situation heavily associated with one of America’s saddest periods.last_img read more