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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Sweet Sweeper: 1940

Sweet Sweeper: 1940

Summer 1940. Washington, D.C. "Modeling blue dress made from sugar sacks, designed for a high school girl on a low income by graduate students of the Department of Clothing and Textiles, School of Home Economics, University of Alabama. Total cost of materials was three dollars and eighteen cents." Photo by John Collier for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.

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The Back Story

Those sacks could make a nice photographic backdrop, too.

Skilled Sewing

What a sweet photo. And it's a pretty, well-made dress. So many women and girls then were skilled home sewers.

Pretty Prints

In the 30s and 40s my great grandfather was an executive in the Chase Bag Company, Milwaukee, Wis.

They produced cloth bags for feed companies printed with patterns. When empty, these bags could be washed and made into shirts, dresses and so on.

I remember as late as the late 50s wearing shirts made by my mother out of these "pretty prints."

Here's an article on the practice.

Not a Blue Dress

It's obviously Gold.

Not that cheap

Although designed for a low-income girl, $3.18 was quite a bit of money in 1940. The minimum wage in 1940 was 30 cents an hour, meaning that one would have to work over 10 hours for the cost of the supplies for one dress. Using the consumer price index, the cost of materials would be about $56 today.

That being said, it takes a lot of talent to look at some sugar sacks and say "I think I can make a dress out of these."

[Most of that $3.18 was the cost of the sugar (over 60 pounds' worth, maybe a year's supply), dress or no dress. And three bucks for a dress in 1940 was cheap, the price of a bra or pair of pajamas. "Economy" dresses in the big department stores were $8. - Dave]

I would wear that dress!

But wow, $3.18 in 1940, adjusted for inflation, is $56 today! And that's just the materials! It's astonishing how cheap clothes have gotten.

Tongue twister

Sheila sewed a shapely summer smock from six sugar sacks.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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