For A Few Sacks More

Booklet entitled "1953 Pattern Service for sewing with cotton bags" produced by Simplicity Patterns. Booklet entitled "1953 Pattern Service for sewing with cotton bags" produced by Simplicity Patterns. TRC 2017.3376
Published in For a few sacks more

5. Feedsacks in the 1950’s

The popularity of the feedsack textiles continued well into the late 1940’s, but their use was slowly coming to an end. Cloth feedsacks were replaced by paper versions, which were considerably cheaper to produce. To help counter this development, various national groups, notably the National Cotton Council and the Textile Bag Manufacturers Association, were set up to support, develop and encourage the production of cotton sacks and their use for garments and household items. They developed a series of activities, including local and state competitions for garments, quilts and other items made from feedsacks. By intent or coincidence, Marilyn Monroe was photographed in late 1951 or early 1952 wearing a specially made fringed dress made from a burlap potato sack, in order to emphasise her ability to wear anything and make it glamourous, and to show that the potato bag itself could be glamourous. To make particular brands of feed more attractive, some manufacturers added extra cloth as a ‘gift’.

International sewing pattern companies, such as those of Burda and Simplicity, produced catalogues and patterns that were especially designed to fit the sizes of commercial feedsacks, although they were often called cotton bags to make them sound more attractive. It is noticeable that although Simplicity produced a Pattern Service system for cotton bags, their actual paper patterns do not mention the link with feedsacks. Similarly, magazines such as The Farmer started to produce fashion guides for farmer’s wives, who could copy the designs from the illustrations. Various dress patterns could be ordered through the post. Again, however, the link with feedsacks is implied rather than directly mentioned.

By the 1950’s it was not only women and girls’ garments that were being produced in feedsacks. A range of paper patterns for men and boy’s wear, literally from underpants to pyjamas and shirts were produced with the aim that they could be made using feedsacks. Nevertheless, the market of women and their needs was economically the most attractive for the producers of cotton feedsacks. So it is not so surprising that various fashion models were photographed wearing printed feedsacks to encourage the notion that sack clothing could be and was glamourous! There was even a Cotton Bag Loan Wardrobe, which included a variety of different types of garments made from decorative cottons, which toured the country to show women how feedsack material could be both practical and fashionable.

TRC 2017.4262Card with printed scene of Lucille Ball wearing a feedsack dress and a bucket on her head, USA 1957 (TRC 2017.4262). For more information, click on the illustration.Lucille Ball gets a Paris gown

The American comedian, Lucille Ball, is still remembered by many for her television series called I Love Lucy, which was about her and her husband and their many (mis) adventures. The series ran from 1951-1957, with a modified version going on until 1960. One episode in particular is a comment on the wearing of feedsack clothing. It is called Lucy gets a Paris gown (no. 147, aired March 1956) and describes how Lucy and her friend, Ethel Mertz, go to Paris with their husbands. Both women want Parisian dresses designed by the French couturier, Jacques Marcel (a fictional name). They are persuaded that the latest fashion are outfits made of horse feed buckets and coarse potato sacks. The two women walk around in these garments until they realise that they had been made fools of by their spouses. They force their husbands to buy real Marcel gowns. However, the next day they see French models wearing outfits, designed by Marcel, which are identical to their sack dresses and eccentric headwear. Memories of this and other I Love Lucy episodes linger on in the American memory and in 2002 Mattel, Inc., produced a Barbie doll version of Lucy wearing her sack outfit. In 2008, the same company made a joint set of Lucy and Ethel dolls wearing buckets and sack garments.

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