The above phrase - the title of this column - was heard often during the Great Depression of the 1930s and became the unofficial motto of an entire generation. It was more than a catchy phrase it was a way of life. Anyone who experienced this period of our history still holds the idea that it could happen again so one must be prepared by saving anything and everything that can be reused because you never know when you might need it again.
Today, we recycle. Most of us do not even know how to do this. In our affluent society, it is so much easier to just throw it away. So, we receive information from our county environment department on how to do this. Even with all the advice, instruction and incentives that we receive, our recycling does not compare to how Depression-era people recycled.
"Hand-me-downs" were clothes that were made for the oldest child in a family and handed down to the younger brothers and sisters. Lucky was the only girl in a family of brothers that never had to wear older sisters' dresses. Friends always could be counted on to remember and remark, "Isn't that Susie's old dress?" Although an only girl would probably still have to wear hand-me-downs dresses from an older cousin hopefully one who lived in a different county. But sisters handed down their clothes from one to the other, with the youngest girl having to wear the faded and re-patched garments that were taken in or taken out in order to fit her. And of course, the hem would be taken up or taken down according to the length of leg to be considered. If the hem was let down a white worn line showed up very clearly. The clever mother would sew a row of rickrack to cover this telltale line. Some girls had to endure the embarrassment of wearing her mother's made-over-dress when her mother gained weight and could not fit into it anymore.
Pants legs for boys were let down as far as they could go and would be worn until the bottom was above the ankle and therefore wouldn't get wet if wading in water hence the term "high-water pants." Pants were never thrown away, even though the knees sported today's fashion of big holes, because the pockets and the outside of the pant legs were still good and could be used for patches. Many a time a young, rambunctious boy would tear a hole in the seat of his pants. Often he was in a hurry to rejoin his friends so his mother would simply have him lay over her lap as she patched him up. Sometimes patches were patched.
If a clothing purchase had to be made, in the case of a coat, it was purchased in a large enough size to make sure that it would fit for a while (parents never being able to estimate how rapidly a child might grow). Some children had to wear a coat for five years before they fit into it. The same principle was used in buying shoes first they "slopped" on the feet, tripping the wearer, and finally they were worn until the feet were crunched inside the too-small cavity. Not healthy for the feet or comfortable but they made do. Many Depression-era children were known to purchase a closet-full of shoes once they were grown and had the money to buy them, as they never wanted to have to wear ill-fitting shoes again. And, of course, in the summer children went barefoot. Why buy shoes that would only get worn out in the wearing better to wait until fall when shoes were needed in order to attend school.
Lucky were the girls who lived on a farm because they had access to the beautifully-printed flour and feed sacks that could be sewn into a "one-of-a-kind" (designer?) new dress.
Sometimes little girls were invited to go to the feed store or farmer's elevator with their father in order to pick out the pattern they preferred. She may never have been taken to a dry goods store to buy a new dress but she received close to the equivalent from the local feed store. Even if she picked out a pattern that was at the bottom of a high stack of sacks, the friendly elevator man was happy to move the sacks in order to get to the pattern that she had picked. When clothing became too small for any member of the family to wear when it became worn and torn in many places, it still was not thrown out, rather the good pieces were cut into squares that eventually appeared on top of the bed in the form of a quilt.
And, by the way, these quilts have become much treasured items not only speaking to the ingenuity of women in providing for their families during this harsh economic period of our history, but also of those fondly-remembered garments once worn out of necessity.
"Make it last, wear it out, make it do, or do without" is a concept we could apply, more than we do, to today's lifestyle.