Disposable by Design-Paper Fashion Fad of the 1960s

Hallmark paper party dresses 1969

Browsing through an issue of a March 1969 issue of McCall’s magazine I came upon this Hallmark ad for paper fashions and matching paper party goods. I don’t remember these. Guess I was too young. But I was intrigued by the idea and needed to find out more. They certainly seemed  far more interesting than those drafty get ups they force you to don in the doctor’s office!

After some research I found out that the fad actually started in 1966 when the Scott Paper Company came up with the idea of promoting their new line of paper towels, called “Colorful Explosions,” by offering the same prints in paper dresses.  You could order them for $1.00.  Little did they realize their marketing gimmick would start the paper dress craze, selling over half a million in the first year!

Of course, other companies followed suit. From left to right,  Breck, Hallmark, Johnson’s Pies, Scott advertisements for their paper fashions.

60s-paper-dress-ads

Paper clothing wasn’t actually made of just paper. It was a blend of approximately 90% cellulose mixed with a synthetic, like nylon, for durability and flame resistance. But still they were not meant for more than a few wears.

“The Big Ones” paper dress produced for Universal Studios

the big ones-universal-studios-paper-dress-1968

Andy Warhol inspired “Souper Dress” produced by the Campbell Soup Company.

The Souper Cambell's Soup Dress

Harry Gordon was a graphic artist who introduced a line of paper dresses called “Poster Dresses”. They were a huge hit with the young and hip crowd in England and France before becoming available in the US.

Harry Gordon Paper Dresses

Many of the large upscale department store chains, including Lord and Taylor and Bonwit Teller, hired  designers to make their own lines of paper fashions. One of them, Elisa Daggs. designed for 60 department stores. She created paper dresses, kaftans, slippers, raincoats and even swimwear!

Elisa Daggs Paper Dress

Elisa Daggs Paper Dress

 

One of the largest producers of paper fashions in the 60s was the Mars Manufacturing Company in Asheville, N.C. At the height of the trend they were making 80,000 to 100,000 dresses a week.  And it all started with a paper dress that had a yellow page phone book print on it.  You could order it for $1.00 through Parade Magazine.  According to one of the company owners, the first day they received 5000 orders, the next day, 25k, then the next 50k.  They realized they were onto something.  So they began a paper clothing line called the  “Wastebasket Boutique.”  Their packaging claimed they were “the pioneer in disposable fashion.”

mars-of-ashville-wastebasket-boutique

Mars Manufacturing-Wastebasket Boutique paper fashions

 

Even dog lovers could jump on the fad.  Back in 1967  former actress, singer, dancer,  Estyne Del Rio, designed a line of paper fashions for dogs called “Dud for Dogs”.  You could buy matching paper outfits for pups and their mistresses., including evening fashions with sequins and metallics!

Paper fashion for dogs

Paper fashions have become highly collectible, with some selling for thousands of dollars. So if you’re lucky enough to find one in it’s original packaging when out thrifting, grab it!

Even though all manner of designers and fashion experts back then predicted paper fashion was the wave of the future, the trend died out by 1969. Environmentalists called attention to the wastefulness of this early example of “fast fashion.” The first Earth Day happened in 1970. The culture was changing to embrace more ecologically friendly ways of living.

But now that I have seen the massive growth of the fast fashion industry since the 90s , looking back it seems the designer, Harry Gordon, knew what was coming.

In a newspaper interview in 1968 he said “I believe people will soon want cheap, disposable things.”  And, unfortunately, he was right.

 

Till next time!

 

By | 2019-03-22T09:57:30-04:00 March 22nd, 2019|Fashion|6 Comments

About the Author:

Theresa Campbell

6 Comments

  1. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell April 9, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    Yes, it certainly was a very short lived trend!

  2. Avatar
    Ivana Split April 9, 2019 at 2:09 pm

    I never knew about paper dresses. How interesting to see the first ‘fast fashion’ product.

  3. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell April 8, 2019 at 10:52 am

    So sad about your friend. She was better off keeping the clothes than the boyfriend. And, yes, it would be like hitting the jackpot to find one in a thrift store today.

  4. Avatar
    Ann March 23, 2019 at 3:11 pm

    That(s a fascinating read, Theresa! Although I was aware of their existence, I had no idea they were such big business. Back in the 80s, a friend of mine found several of them in a Salvation Army charity shop. She had a fascinating collection of vintage clothes, but she got rid of it all when she met her boyfriend, who wasn’t so keen. So sad. I don’t think there’s much of a chance of coming across any of these in a charity shop nowadays! xxx

  5. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell March 23, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    Wow! A Beatles dress? That must be worth a pretty penny. Lucky for her 🙂

  6. Avatar
    Vix March 22, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    They’re amazing, aren’t they? The Andy Warhol soup one is particularly iconic.
    A young blogger who doesn’t blog any more had a Beatles one, it was incredibly cool (and I don’t even like The Beatles!) xxx

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