April 8th Tuesday Have been looking over some of Susans
clothes for summer mended & let the tucks down
to her skirts & finished the shirt for Mr Ames
that was cut out a week ago Monday. Ironed
some collars cuffs &c. This afternoon have had
a powerful rain Jane has starched her fine
clothes and got them ready for Ironing and has
ironed some of the coarse clothes
Tucks are pleats. They were sewn into little girls’s dresses by design so that the dresses could be let out as the girls grew taller. Tucking was preferable to lengthening the hems because pleats required less fabric, were easier to put in and take out, and less obvious when changed. The object of the whole exercise was to make the dresses last as long as possible.
Anyone who has read Little Women or seen the 1933 film version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale of the March family will probably recognize the image of Amy March (played here by Joan Bennett). In this scene Amy is being punished by her schoolteacher for bringing pickled limes to class. She is so mortified that she never returns to the school again. The only worse “deggerradation” she can imagine would be having her clothes shortened by tucking: “Mother doesn’t take tucks in my dresses whenever I’m naughty, as Maria Parks’s mother does […] it’s really dreadful, for sometimes she is so bad her frock is up to her knees and she can’t come to school.”
Most young girls had tucks in their dresses, whether they were the fictional Amy March or the bona fide Susie Ames. And so today, as Evelina got Susie’s summer wardrobe in order, she “let the tucks down” to accommodate her daughter’s new height. There’s no instance of her taking the tucks back up in order to punish Susie when she was naughty.
This image of Amy March also illustrates the aprons or shifts that little girls wore over their dresses to protect the outfits from soiling.