Interesting Facts

The history of Flour sack clothing fashion

After Kansas mill owners found women reused flour sack materials into apparel in the 1920s and 1930s, they started applying patterned designs to give families with more fashionable patterns and material.

You might have seen a popular photograph of a man sitting cheerfully next to a pile of beautifully printed flour sacks, stating that the bags were used to make clothing for children in need. The short answer is that it is true! From the 1920s until the 1960s, flour sack attire was a common choice for many. But first, let’s look at the background of those pretty flour bags!

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This early 1940s photo on the left shows two women showing off their hand-made dresses while standing next to a shipment of colored and patterned bags. The photo on the right shows the instructions that were printed on many of the bags, many of which came with ink that could be dulled or washed out completely. Photo credit:

Let’s travel back to a time when saving money and frugality were the norm in support of the war effort. Young and old women wore these dresses. All of these gowns have an intriguing history, dating to a time when America was committed to recycling and the globe was at war.

Cotton: the flour holder

Beginning in the 1800s, cotton bags were used for the distribution of bulk goods like flour. To transfer more product, flour mills were able to give up wooden boxes in favor of the lighter cotton sacks. Not only did distributors find these cotton bags beneficial, but homemakers soon discovered a purpose for them as well.

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This Time LIFE photo shows a warehouse worker packing up some of the patterned bags for delivery. Photo credit:

People started coming up with inventive applications for the excess fabric that was lying around the home and barns. The unsightly, simple bags were sometimes ripped into pieces and used in many homes as dish towels.

These simple cotton sacks would be in use until 1922, but their influence and value would last for a very long time. Millers believed that switching the cotton sacks out for paper cartons would be more practical, both for distribution handling and storage for the typical housewife, and on April 28, 1922, The Washington Post published an article titled “Farewell to the Old Flour Sack.”

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Given how widespread this became, national publications began to print instructions for how to produce different items. Photo credit:

However, according to Feed Sack Secrets: Fashion from Hard Times, “both the city and country housewife would see the old flour sack in a new light in just a few short years. Thanks to a young guy by the name of Asa, changes were on the way. Bales, T.

Where flour sacks to pretty clothes started

In October 1924, Mr. Bales of Roscoe, Missouri, applied for a patent for cotton bags that had attractive patterns and were sizable enough to be used for apparel. Asa was specifically awarding his patent to the St. Louis-based George P. Plant Milling Co. for their new “Gingham” flour product. Different brands, such as “Gingham Girl,” “Mother Gingham,” “Baby Gingham,” and “Gingham Queen,” were created from the original line.

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This 1940 photo of a family shows some of the flour sack clothes up close and in full color. Many of them were quite beautiful! Photo credit:

Plant Milling executives thought this was a fantastic marketing opportunity, since consumers would immediately recognize their brand when they saw the Gingham pattern. The indications on the package, such as the brand name, would wash away because the sacks were designed with clothing in mind, according to Bales’ patent. Specifically, this was done so that the cloth could be made into garments.

As soon as other mills learned about the strategy, they began creating their own chic packaging. The rival mills would engage in a contest to see who could create the most appealing pattern, using everything from pastels to novelty patterns.”

“A yard saved, was a yard gained towards victory”

When the United States entered World War II in the 1940s, Americans who were not on the front lines made sacrifices so that the soldiers would have food. The war effort received all of the cotton and wool that was available. Homemakers used the cotton sacks to produce apparel out of a desperate need for fabric. The flour sack dress evolved into a popular and fashionable garment. There were flour sack costumes everywhere you turned. There were even contests where ladies would compete and display their stitching prowess.

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This trend continued through the WWII era as people aimed to extend their money and materials as long as possible. This ad from 1948 shows how the trend evolved. Note that it appears as though the patterned bags did begin to cost more in the late 1940s, but as this ad said, they were worth the extra cost. Photo credit:

These costumes provided rural women with a cost-effective method to flaunt their sense of style. Before the 1960s, flour sack dresses were all the rage. We still recall the design of these recognizable gowns and the historical impact they have now!

Below are a few of the patterns that came from the bags:

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Lovely dog and flower pattern. Photo credit:
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This fun pattern could have been used for all kinds of designs and garments. Photo credit:
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Here’s one of our favorite designs – this would have made a lovely dress! Photo credit:
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This phenomenon was so key to people in the Depression and post-war era that the Smithsonian even keeps a sack dress on display, as seen above. This dress was crafted in the 1950s as part of a bag sewing contest in Kansas. Photo credit:
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