Past Times

NC seamstresses create fashion with raw materials

Women from across the Carolinas (aged 4 to 92) modeled dresses made from cotton feed bags for the FCX “Fashion Parade.”
Women from across the Carolinas (aged 4 to 92) modeled dresses made from cotton feed bags for the FCX “Fashion Parade.” N. C. Conservation and Development, Travel and Tourism Photo Files, State Archives of North Carolina

In 1948, writer John H. Marshall covered an unusual fashion show in downtown Raleigh.

A woman dressed in what used to be three or four cotton feed bags can hold her own these days with any Fifth Avenue original.

That was proved yesterday when Mrs. Albert Eagles of Macclesfield … won first place and $100 in the FCX “Fashion Parade,” held at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium as a part of the joint annual N.C. Cotton Growers Cooperative Association and Farmers Cooperative Exchange meeting.

Mrs. Eagles’ cleverly styled navy and white dress had the “new look,” and enough “something extra” to win over 38 strong contenders.

The three fashion-wise judges – Mrs. Margarette Smethurst, women’s editor of The News and Observer; Mrs. Harriet Pressly, director of public services for Raleigh’s Radio Station WPTF; and Miss Sue Reid of Memphis, Tenn., coordinator of the National Cotton Council’s cotton bag wardrobe program – admitted they had a hard time selecting winners.…

In describing the winning dress, Miss Reid had this to say:

“The full push-up sleeves, the wide pointed collar, slim-buttoned waist and voluminous skirt were given a Gibson touch in the green ribbon accent chosen as the only color highlight to her ensemble. Like Cinderella emerging from the chimney corner, the blue and white feed sacks blossomed under Mrs. Eagle’s magic touch into a high style fashion worthy of the most impressive salons.”

Second prize and $50 went to Mrs. Latham Johnson of Wallace, who, Miss Reid said, “showed that a gray-haired matron could do just as much magic with her choice of feed bags as any young model.” Mrs. Johnson selected soft green and white stripes in a shirtwaist style with unusual touches.

“Diagonal pockets, a soft, split neckline, and graceful gored skirt had a decidedly slimming effect – and was mature and dignified when modeled by Mrs. Johnson,” Miss Reid said.

The third prize and $25 was won by Mrs. B. M. Gunter of West Columbia, S.C., who modeled a bright flower print on white background.

“A summery, soft style, with the charm of the cotton bags being enhanced by white cotton eyelet inserted to form a bertha effect at the neckline,” Miss Reid said. “The same cotton eyelet was used in fresh touches on the skirt. The flare of the skirt made the petite Mrs. Gunter seem taller – another clever trick with cotton bags.”

Fourth prize winner was Mrs. J. W. Zimmerman of Charlotte.

“She modeled a stunning creation of blue and white cotton bags,” Miss Reid said. “Her sleeveless, fitted frock had a scalloped neckline, a slightly full skirt, and clever button treatment. White pique buttons marched along the shoulders and down the side closings, two of which opened to show a hidden pocket on the hip.”

With the dress Mrs. Zimmerman wore a clever open crowned hat of the same fabric, trimmed with matching white buttons, and carried a drawstring pouch of the identical cotton bag material.…

All of the 39 county contest winners wore attractive street or afternoon dresses that the judges said made them wish they could give “39 first prizes.”

The “Fashion Parade” was started last December by M. G. Mann, FCX general manager, to give farm women a chance to show what can be done with the prints, stripes, and checks of the “new look” cotton feed bags. During the summer, county contests were held at FCX meetings, and more than 900 women competed for a chance at the finals which were held today.

The style show aptly demonstrated the evolution of the feed bag. First it was a burlap bag that could be used for rugged farm duty. Then it was a coarse cotton bag that could be used for dish towels, and some thrifty housewives even made the sturdy cloth into everyday underclothing. Then came the idea of cotton prints, fashionable, good-looking ones, that women could make into dresses cheaply. With a yard and seven inches of good cotton fabric in the average 100 pound cotton bag of feed, it took generally three or four bags to design the winning frocks. The majority of those in the parade cost less than one dollar, the only expense being that of buttons, thread, and patterns. The N&O Sept. 29, 1948

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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