by Melissa Johnson
To survive after the stock market crash of 1929, families had to be creatively thrifty when it came to necessities like clothing. One of the ways women outfitted their children and themselves was to use the cotton from large flour and grain sacks to sew shirts, pants, and dresses.
For a while, an estimated 3.5 million women and children walked around with Pillsbury and Purina logos emblazoned on their clothes. But as manufacturers grew privy to the dual nature their cotton containers had taken on, they began printing a vast array of colorful patterns on the sacks and even including washable instructions for creating clothing, dolls, dish towels, and other household items out of the cloth. The patterns were attractive and similar to ones found in fabric stores today.
The end of the Depression overlapped with the beginning of World War II, and as the war raged on, flour was rationed and the cloth used for soldiers’ uniforms. Housewives back home began to buy their staples in paper sacks, which were cheaper to produce.
When the nation had recovered from the destitution of the 1930s and the rationing of the 1940s, manufacturers tried to revive the tradition in the 1960s by again producing cotton sacks with, this time, cartoon prints. The trend remained dormant. Possibly no one found pleasure in being reminded of the hardscrabble days of the 1930s. Today, flour, sugar, and grains are still packaged in paper bags, and the Amish are said to be the only group who still use cotton sacks.
It’s heartening that these corporations met their customers halfway during the Depression. Women’s thrifty ways were rewarded with beautiful cloth and, as a result, dignity in their wardrobes.
Caseley, Laura. “1930s Flour Sacks Featured Colorful Patterns for Women to Make Dresses.” Little Things. www.littlethings.com/flour-sack-dresses. Accessed Dec. 30, 2017.
“Flower Sack Dresses from the Flour Mills (Historical Kindness).” Kindness Blog. May 6, 2015. https://kindnessblog.com/2015/05/06/flower-sack-dresses-from-the-flour-mills-historical-kindness. Accessed Dec. 30, 2017.