The Idle American recalls the good old days when we were living in a homemade world.


It was an era when almost everyone wore flour sack or feed sack dresses and shirts.
It was an era when almost everyone wore flour sack or feed sack dresses and shirts.

   When push came to shove during the Great Depression, the masses were unable to shove back. Instead, they relied on creativity to “make do.”

Thanks to patterned sacks containing livestock feed–as well as kitchen flour–many wardrobes depended greatly on foot-powered Singer sewing machines. Mostly, women turned out the “make do” garments willingly worn by adults and children alike.

There were shirts and dresses—and other garments—including underclothing. Yes, for guys the seamstresses turned out what were commonly called “flour sack drawers.”


   Please don’t equate such to compromised hygiene—except during cotton-picking season. Then, the practice of Saturday baths—usually in number three washtubs—was suspended, but not without ritual.

On a farm nearby, a dozen children–all farm workers–were parentally advised that sweaty cotton-picking temperatures rendered bathing pointless.

“We’re going to have changes of underwear, though,” the farmer instructed. “John, you change with Robert; Mary, you change with Martha,” and so on.


   I occasionally wished for “store-bought” items. In retrospect, I should have been grateful for a talented and committed mom who never saw a flour sack she didn’t envision on a cutting board. (She also cut my hair–as well as the manes of many other male relatives–with hand clippers. I was in college before experiencing my first “shop-bought” haircut.)

My wife remembers her first purchased dress, worn proudly to her eighth grade honors program.

We were legion, “make do” folks proud to let labels hang out, happy to offer proof that some of our apparel wasn’t homemade.


   With this in mind, I find it curious that Hanes, a major company that turns out men’s undergarments, has launched an ad campaign promoting its “tagless underwear.”

The Federal Trade Commission has decreed—with many chapters and verses—that most manufactured garments must be “tagged” or otherwise labeled with detailed information. If tagless shorts don’t get the feds’ attention, Hanes may get rid of imprinting next. What’ll the FTC do? Maybe join the Internal Revenue Service in a duet of teeth-gnashing.

Who knows, mattresses may be next. Imagine sleeping through the night without any fear of being hauled off to jail for our relaxed repose on a tagless mattress.


   Hanes’ campaign is indeed subtle. It suggests the dawning of a bright new day. We may be chafed—rubbed wrong in many of life’s circuitous circumstances—but, thanks to Hanes–irritations will be reduced by one.

Ads stress that men now have no worries about irritation by abrasive tags on shorts.

Do you feel like igniting any Roman candles yet? I don’t either.


   At the risk of providing too much information, I’ve worn such “store bought” items for more than seven decades. (I think they came soon after diaper wear. I was so adorned soon after diapers, about the time “union suits” came along. No, these suits had nothing to do with the Civil War.)

I recall no irritations by abrasive tags. In fact, I’ve always considered such tags helpful, particularly when they were universally sewn in back. This guided me in getting drawers on “front-erds,” a common term at the time.

I’ve also accepted shorts with labels in front, or on sides, and in some cases, on the outside. Remembering which companies use tags which ways is challenging, however.


   Mostly, I believe a vast majority of men simply seek comfort. Manufacturers enjoy fruitful profits in turning out garments of all shapes and sizes that conform to men of all shapes and sizes.

And Godspeed to Hanes, if the company’s intent is to start a journey to eventually challenge the FTC.

That cog in government’s big machine probably deserves the kind of spotlight now shining on various government entities.


   My Uncle Mort, 101 this summer, claims to wear homemade shorts to this very day. Aunt Maude confirms that she’s turned ‘em out by the hundreds, from an electric sewing machine the past 40 years.

“They’re roomy and comfy,” Mort bragged, adding a poem he claims provides “words to live by”:

It’s easy to grin, when your ship comes in, if it’s just a small boat

or a yacht. But one that’s worthwhile is one who can smile

when his shorts creep up in a knot.


   Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Twitter: @donnewbury.  Web site:

51qb2F8C0hL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-60,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Please click the book cover to read more about Don Newbury’s book on Amazon.

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