Flour Sack Dresses: Thrifty Fashions from the Great Depression

Flour sack dresses show how resourceful housewives of the past “made do” with whatever was at hand. But they weren’t the only clever ones–see how savvy flour and feed companies responded to their customers’ desires for cuter sacking.

flour sack dress history

The History of Flour Sack Dresses

During the tough economic times of the Great Depression, housewives needed new ways to produce what their families needed, including clothing. So they looked around the house–and even the barn–for extra fabric they could turn into dresses, aprons, or shirts.

flour sack dresses

Female workers pose with sacks of flour in the grounds of a British mill during WWI. 1914. By Nicholls Horace [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. (Click to view.)

One answer? Feed and flour sacks. Back then, flour and animal feed came in large fabric bags, like the ones you see here in this World War I-era photo. Seamstresses had been using these muslin or burlap sacks since the 1890s to make common household items.

By the 1920s, these sacks had gotten a little cuter, some with gingham checked or striped patterns. So frugal housewives of the 1930s turned feed and flour sacks into everyday clothing for themselves and their families.

It didn’t take long for manufacturers of flour and feed to start printing their sacks with colors and patterns that women would want to buy. Some put patterns for dolls or stuffed animals on the bags. They even made it so you could wash out the ink so your new dress wouldn’t be a walking ad for Sunbonnet Sue flour! Newspapers and publishers also began printing patterns and ideas for getting the most out of the small yardage of a flour or feed sack.

Old photo of printed fabric flour sacks or ‘feedsacks’. Flickr Creative Commons photo, uploaded by gina pina. Click to view.

A fascinating article at OldPhotoArchive.com shows some great images of flour and feed sack dresses. And the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has an online article about a feed sack dress from 1959, because these didn’t go out of fashion when the Great Depression ended! According to that article, World War II caused a cotton fabric shortage. Feed and flour sack dresses again became popular.

After the war, women continued to make these dresses, encouraged even further by national sewing contests. Women even sold off their extra flour or feed sacks to others who wanted them.

Memories of Flour Sack Dresses

A woman named Denise posted a neat memory at the end of the Smithsonian article. She says:

flour sack dresses

Click to view my Facebook post about my grandma’s 1940s house dresses.

“I was born in 1951. For the first four-five years of my life, all my dresses were sewn by my paternal grandmother from feed sacks. She would layer the fabric two to three layers deep and cut the main dresses from the same pattern. She would then add different details to each dress. Some sleeveless, some with little puffy fifties sleeves, some with self collars, some with contrasting solid collars. We lived in rural north GA, but nonetheless I was teased by my parents’ friends about my feed-sack dresses. Oh how I longed for store-bought dresses. Now, oh how I long to have some of those wonderful little feed sack dresses! They weren’t thought of as precious at all, so no one ever thought to keep them!”

I think a lot of people have fond—or at least vivid—memories of old dresses like these. I do! I posted a photo of my grandma’s old house dresses from the 1930s and 1940s on Instagram. What a response from everyone there and on Facebook! My grandma’s house dresses weren’t made from flour sacks, but they’re from the same era.

Want to see some eye-candy vintage fabrics or date your own family heirloom clothing? Check out these books:

Care for Your Flour Sack Dresses or Other Heirlooms

Take better care of your own family heirloom pieces, whether they are photos, vintage fabrics, documents or other objects. Get Denise Levenick’s popular book How to Archive Family Keepsakes: Learn How to Preserve Family Photos, Memorabilia and Genealogy RecordsThis book will help you sort, identify, and preserve your own treasured family artifacts and memorabilia.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Hotel Rervations Now Open for FGS 2020 Conference

The Federation of Genealogists annual conference will be held in Kansas City, Missouri on September 2 – 5, 2020. I’ll be there and I hope you will be too. Watch our #FGS2020 page here to learn more about my activities at #FGS2020. 

If you’re planning to attend, now is the time to book your hotel reservation. Rooms can fill up very quickly.

Here are all the details from the press release from the folks at the Federation of Genealogical Societies. 

FGS conference hotel reservations

HOTEL RESERVATIONS NOW OPEN FOR THE FGS 2020 CONFERENCE IN KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

*1/11/2020** – Austin, TX*.

FGS is pleased to announce that hotel reservations are now open for the 2020 Conference to be held in Kansas City, Missouri.

The Kansas City Marriott Downtown is now taking reservations for the 2020 FGS Family History Conference, “Blazing Trails in the Heart of America” The conference will be held September 2-5, 2020. This hotel is set in the heart of the downtown district and connects via walkway to the Kansas City Convention Center where the conference will be held.

FGS 2020 Conference room rates are available Saturday August 29, 2020 until Tuesday September 8, 2020 (subject to availability). Reservations must be made by August 3, 2020 to secure the conference rate.

Kansas City Marriott Downtown

200 West 12th Street, Kansas City, Missouri 64105

Full details and links for FGS discounted reservations can be found on the FGS website here.

FGS 2020

Screen shot of FGS conference website.

Conference hotels fill up quickly, so it is not too early to make reservations. We look forward to seeing you in Kansas City!

About the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS)

The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) was founded in 1976 and empowers the genealogical and family history community, especially its societies and organizations, by advocating for the preservation and access of records and providing resources that enable genealogical organizations to succeed in pursuing their missions.

FGS helps genealogical societies and family history enthusiasts alike to strengthen and grow through online resources, *FGS FORUM *magazine, and through its annual national conference which provides four days of excellent learning opportunities for both societies and family history enthusiasts.

FGS launched the Preserve the Pensions project in 2010 to raise more than $3 million to digitize and make freely available the pension files from the War of 1812. Fundraising was completed for that project in 2016 and the digitization continues. FGS was also the driving force behind the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors project alongside the National Parks Service.

 

Family History and DNA: Spencer Wells at SCGS

A couple of months ago, I blogged the cool news that the Southern California Genealogical Society will be sponsoring a one-day genetic genealogy conference on Thursday, June 6, 2013 in conjunction with its annual Jamboree.

In the following video interview, a news reporter chats with Spencer Wells, one of the keynote speakers for “Family History and DNA: Genetic Genealogy in 2013.” They talk about how the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project uses DNA to place us on a worldwide family tree. Spencer even helps the reporter take his own DNA cheek scraping on live TV.

Whether you’d love a teaser for the upcoming genetic genealogy conference or you’re just interested in DNA, check out this video:

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