In Making Fate, Uncle Anthony whisked Glyde Douglass off to New York for a whirlwind visit. As the youngest of three sisters, Glydes clothes were hand-me-downs and she had to borrow one of her sister’s sacks to wear on the trip.
Although it was clear in the book that a sack was some kind of garment, “sack” is not a fashion term most 21st Century readers recognize. For a good description of a lady’s sack, there’s no better authority than Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine, which was a popular women’s publication in the late 1800s.
According to Godey’s, a sack (or sacque) was a lady’s overcoat that was in fashion for several decades. Of varying lengths, it was usually hip length or reached to about a woman’s knees. It was sometimes styled to match a specific dress or it was made up in a neutral color so it could be worn over a variety of dresses.
The December 1853 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine featured this stylish sack:
Fall or winter sacque. This style of wrap is very pretty for misses.
It can be made of silk, or of any kind of cloth. It is trimmed with
a ruching of velvet, silk, or cloth, either of the same shade as the
material or darker. The latter has the more stylish appearance.
The June, 1863 issue of Godey’s included this drawing and description under the banner, “The Latest Style”:
Another pretty robe dress, with sack to match, very
suitable for traveling. This style of dress is to be had in
percales of neutral tints, and in wool goods, such
as taffetas and alpacas.
The May 1863 issue featured this description for a new sack design:
A very stylish morning costume for a watering-place. It is
made of white alpaca with one box-plaited flounce bound
with black on the edge of the skirt. Above the flounce is a
lace-like embroidery, and three rows of black velvet. A
short sack is cut to the figure, but not fitting closely,
is worn over a white muslin waist.
During their stay in New York, Uncle Anthony took Glyde on a wonderful shopping spree, purchasing many things for her, including a new sack in the latest style:
It was one of the newest styles, fine and heavy, and beautifully trimmed, yet simple enough for a girl of the most refined tastes. The quick eye of the saleswoman had caught the right size, and the garment fitted as though made to order.
“It suits me exactly,” Uncle Anthony announced, in his most complacent tone. “Your Aunt Estelle used to wear one very much like it. Go over to the mirror, little girl, and see what you think. If it pleases you as much as it does me, we will call it a bargain.”
No girl could have looked at herself in a full length mirror and caught such a reflection as Glyde did, without being pleased. Her face spoke for her.
“You like it?” said Uncle Anthony. “Glad of it. You may as well keep it on and have the other sent home. It is warmer than that; and this is a pretty cold morning.”
“But, Uncle Anthony,” she said, moving toward him and speaking low. Her appalled eyes had caught sight of the figure marked on the sleeve-card, and she did not know how to make her protest strong enough. “I truly do not need it; my sack which I have at home is warm; warmer than Estelle’s, and I do not mind its being a little old-fashioned; and indeed I cannot think that you know how very expensive this one is.”
“Yes, I do; I know exactly what it costs. You don’t suppose I am foolish enough to buy an article without finding that out the first thing, do you? I call it very reasonable for a garment gotten up in that style; it is well lined, you see, and will outlast three or four like that one you had on. The question is does it suit you as well as anything you see around here?”
“Oh, it could not be lovelier, but—”
“Then we won’t waste time over conjunctions, disjunctive ones at that. Just let the young lady wear it home, will you? And send the other to my hotel with the handkerchief, you know, and other things?”
The sympathetic saleswoman laughed; she had not had such an enjoyable customer in many a day. Her heart was in the entire enterprise. She led the way for Uncle Anthony with such promptness and success that several more bewildering purchases were made by him before he announced himself ready for luncheon.