Give us bread, but give us roses: The story behind the name

I wanted to share a little bit about the story behind the name "Bread and Roses Vintage." It's something that means a lot to me, so I hope you'll take a minute to read about it: 

Strikers in the Lawrence, Mass., "Bread and Roses" strike, from the Walter P. Reuther Library
As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,

Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,

For the people hear us singing: "Bread and roses! Bread and roses!"

The name "Bread and Roses" comes from a 1911 poem by James Oppenheim, and a famous 1912 labor strike in Lawrence, Mass., that adopted Oppenheim's slogan as one of its rallying cries and eventually became known by that name. The poem was set to music later in the 20th century and was popularized by both Joan Baez and Judy Collins.

Political cartoon courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library

As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women's children, and we mother them again.

Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;

Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!

There are a number of terrific resources you can check out for more about the Bread and Roses strike, but I'll summarize it briefly by saying this: More than 100 years ago, several thousand women — many of whom were what we would consider today to be "uneducated," many not speaking the same language — fought for, and won, better working conditions in the mills of Lawrence, Mass., against fierce opposition and long odds.

As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.

Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.

Yes, it is bread we fight for—but we fight for roses, too!
When I think about this strike, I am amazed by two things: First, that these women (with the robust, tireless and dynamic support of the IWW and others) survived these brutal conditions and achieved their goals. And second, that they were willing to put everything on the line, including their lives, for not just "bread," or material gains, but "roses" — the things that make life worth living. The things that make us who we are. The things that give us a reason to smile.

'Eight Hours' by Ricardo Levins Morales

As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.

No more the drudge and idler — ten that toil where one reposes,

But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

So what does all this have to do with a fashion blog, or an Etsy shop selling vintage clothes? Well, this shop, and this blog, are my "bread and roses." I do what I do not only to earn some extra money, but also to feed my soul. And I think of the clothes that I sell the same way. I sell "bread" — classic staples like pencil skirts, sweaters and blouses. And I also sell "roses" — the things that make our eyes light up, that put smiles on our faces

Further, the conditions those American garment workers were trying to escape — child labor, poor wages, dangerous working conditions and long hours, to name a few — are still all too common for the workers who produce the vast majority of the new clothes sold in this country. Buying secondhand clothing is one alternative to supporting the fast-fashion industry that is most often tied to these abuses (although premium and designer brands are by no means innocent). 

1912 IWW poster with "Big" Bill Haywood quote - from the Walter P. Reuther Library

I am proud to spend my money (most of the time), not at department stores or in the mall, but at local thrift stores whose mission it is to help those in need; at local churches that provide spiritual support and material comfort to my community; and at the thrift stores of organizations such as Hospice and the SPCA. And when you spend money in my shop, you're not only helping me support these organizations; you're giving me some "bread and roses" of my own — a new pair of sneakers for my daughter, or a meal out at a restaurant for my family. 

I don't kid myself that what I'm doing on my blog or in my Etsy is a particularly meaningful act. But I do think this idea of "hearts (starving) as well as bodies" is a meaningful one, and one that I wish to honor. The things I post about here, the clothes I list in my shop, are nourishing to my heart, and I hope to yours as well. 


  1. I literally had goosebumps the whole way down- I can't believe how strong and courageous these women were- and they won! That must have been a huge shock to the community, it's very inspiring in terms of never giving up, no matter how hard. And I love the way that that ties into your blog and vintage. Finding and sharing treasures really is a huge rose in my life, and you always find the best pieces. Lovely post :)

    xo marlen
    Messages on a Napkin

    1. Thanks for your kind words! I have been really excited to share this story. My thoughts about fashion have really evolved over the last several years, and the whole concept of "bread and roses" sums up so much of how I feel about all of this.


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