Days Gone By - stories from the past

A woman is considered old at forty and no longer wears colors

During the 1930s, Great Depression era, many writers were employed to interview people around the United States, so their experiences and life history could be recorded. The program was named the U.S. Work Projects Administration, Federal Writers’ Project and it gave employment to historians, teachers, writers, librarians, and other white-collar workers. This is one of those stories.

Customs of Dress (in the 1930s)


Works Project Administration Writer (WPA)

Maude Dreisbach

September 17, 1936

The people of the larger towns and cities of Alabama are as modern as New York in their dress, adopting the fashions of the seasons. In many of the rural sections of the State, the dress of the people is as individual and distinctive as the Shaker bonnet or the Mennonite cap.

In such sections, the dress and hat of the young woman may have been copied, as best she could, from a picture she had admired in a fashion magazine published ten years before it fell into her hands.

Farm people come to town – Unidentified woman and girl in Eden, Alabama June 1936 (Dorothea Lange, Library of Congress)

Considered old at forty

A woman is considered old at forty; no longer does she ape the styles or wear colors. She wears a “slat bonnet” of somber color, as is her dress, made with tight basque and full skirt that touches the ground.

This bonnet has a full heavy skirt hanging far down over the shoulders, the head-piece or brim held out over the face by “slats” of pasteboard inserted between two layers of cloth. Dress and bonnet are usually of black or dark brown cotton material.

Martha Kelley Stewart of Eden, Alabama, with an unidentified elderly woman ca. 1936 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

White apron worn on special occasions

On important occasions, funerals, marriages, and camp meetings, a white apron that reaches from the waist to the bottom of the skirt may be worn, the belt of the apron extending into a sash that is tied into a large bow at the back of the waist line. The more fastidious border their aprons with crochet lace. These aprons generally call for an extra shine of blacking on their homemade shoes.

RIBBON OF LOVE: 2nd edition – A Novel of Colonial America Inspired by actual people and historical events! Based on the Cottingham ancestors of Bibb County, Alabama.

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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  1. By age 40, she’s worked herself into old age.

  2. This explains the color of the fabrics in a couple of utility quilts from this time period.

  3. I was born in Eden, Alabama in 1939 and had several relatives in the area. Makes me wonder if this might have been an Aunt or cousin.

  4. Maybe that’s why they looked so old. I remember when it was shocking for a woman to wear red but I wore it anyway. I loved color and I figured if my God created all the beautiful colors in nature He must love it too.

  5. My family has lived in Eden for six generations. I don’t know who those women are they have to be my kin!

  6. I had no idea there were Alabama women so bound by rural traditions that late in the twentieth century.

  7. Well, if we ever have a Super Bowl in Alabama, I hope they make sure to tell J-Lo and Shakira. 😉

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