Hand Me Down Glamor (Memory from The Great Depression)

“Hand me downs” were a vital part of every kid’s wardrobe during The Great Depression. Though Annie and John were several years older, I wore their hand me downs, though they had probably passed through other children before they got back to me. Kids only had to look at an older sibling to see what was in their wardrobe future. With any luck, a kid got an occasional new item was scrapped up now and then if there was a program at school, or Mama had managed to save up matching feed sacks around Christmas or a birthday. Whenever someone “handed down” items that didn’t fit, Mama ripped them up and remade them for one of us, often turning the faded side in. I expected to wear family hand-me-downs. That was just life, but was outraged when the preacher’s wife passed some of her daughter’s clothes to me. I didn’t want her old castoffs. I was proud and considered it charity, thinking she’d look down on me.  My proud attitude did not matter.  I wore them anyway.

The Elam family lived nearby, excellent neighbors, though not too long descended to Cuthand Creek from the Ozarks.  They were good folks, but still didn’t quite make the cut with the local sophisticates, sometimes sufferring some embarrassment.  Their teenage daughters, Medrith and Meredith Elam, fetching young ladies, didn’t share my aversion to hand-me-downs, showing up in evening wear of a style never before seen in the Cuthand Methodist Church one Sunday. I breathlessly followed their progress as they took their places in the choir wearing eye-popping dresses that that clearly seen earlier incarnations as evening attire, low-backed, form-fitting, peek-a-boo confections of silk, sateen, and sheer lace. Completed by long, over-the-elbow gloves, gaudy costume jewelry, and feathered hats, all they lacked was rhinestone-studded cigarette holders to complete the picture of 1930’s movie star glamor. Some old busy-body must have made a snide comment since they never dressed so stylishly again, a great disappointment to me.

35 thoughts on “Hand Me Down Glamor (Memory from The Great Depression)

  1. Hey Linda,

    This is a thoroughly enjoyable memory and personal perspective, which helps to bring social history alive by giving it depth, context and form. I admire your sense of pride and the notion of togetherness and loving unity expressed within your family, especially during a time of unprecedented hardship.

    I have only a little knowledge of the Great Depression, and that mostly gleaned from the Internet whilst assisting my niece with her university dissertation. Her thesis centred on Dorothea Lange, an influential American documentary photographer and photojournalist best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration, but the reach of her social commentary extends far beyond that. Should you wish to view some of her work, this is a good site to start on: http://www.moma.org/collection/artists/3373

    Thank you Linda for a fascinating post and unearthing a little more treasure from the family archives 🙂

    Enjoy a superb afternoon and evening.

    Namaste

    DN – 07/09/2015

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    • I love Dorothea Lange’s work. Did you happen to read Mary Coin? (Fiction ased on photograph of Migrant Woman) I am writing my mother’s memoirs of the Great Depression. I will look up your niece’s work. I have a number of my mother’s and dad’s photos from depression. Thanks.

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      • Hey Linda,

        It comes as no surprise you knew Lange’s work…she was prolific during the Depression, and I recall your earlier mention of writing your mother’s memoirs. The noted photograph is arguably her most famous piece, and one that featured heavily in my niece’s extended essay as well. (My niece’s work is not published online) Another photographer’s name that I recall from her work was Consuelo Delesseps Kanaga – an American photographer and writer who became well known for her photographs of African-Americans. Her work describes both urban and rural environments. One piece by her that displays similar qualities to Lange’s, Migrant Mother, is: Mother With Children in New York (1922) (http://spartacus-educational.com/USAPkanaga.htm).

        Marisa Silver’s fictional work based on the image of Mary Coin was discussed as a possible reference, but never used, hence I did not read the book. Your question might suggest that you have? Did you feel it an accurate portrayal of her life and the period in which she lived? I believe our research included an interview with one of her children, but I’m sorry, I have no link to that, however, you may know of it already?

        I have been slowly working my way through some of the photographs you’ve blogged already, and find them superb, so pleased you have shared them in your posts. Thank you 🙂

        Namaste

        DN – 08/09/2015

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        • I have read the book and was glad to know more of the life of migrant workers. There is another there is another work written jab out the same time John Steinbeck published Grapes of Wrath. The story is, he encountered that writer doing research and got his book published just weeks before hers, so that her book was cancelled. I believe the title is. Whose Names are Unknown. It is excellent. I will get the title and author for you. I haven on Kindle.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. That tradition of hand-me-downs went on long after the Depression for so many families. We had no seamstress in the family once we lost our grandmother…so we wore them ill-fitting ! So many stories…thanks for this one…sweet ! ☺

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