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