Nowadays, when we think of paper clothing we think of hospital gowns and disposable coveralls, but back in the 1960s paper dresses were all the rage and some even thought the fad might lead to a shift in disposable cellulose-based fashions for the whole family.
While the notion of disposable clothing horrifies us today, it’s important to remember that the period from the 1940s to the 1960s was the brave new world for advances in convenience and disposable consumer goods. Nylons, pens, cigarette lighters, razors, diapers, paper plates and plastic-ware were still a novelty at that time and not necessarily the norm as they are today. Convenience was king and consumers didn’t have the knowledge we have today of dwindling resources and overflowing landfills.
So, the enter the paper dress the ultimate inconvenience. No need to wash, dry, iron or even hang it up. Open the package, pop it over your head, wear it out on the town and at the end of the night toss it in the bin.
The first paper dress was created by the Scott Paper Company in 1966 as a marketing gimmick. Customers could send in $1 and receive the “Paper Caper” dress plus 52 cents worth of coupons for Scott Paper products. The campaign was wildly successful and over 500,000 dresses were mailed out. This spurred a craze during which millions of paper dresses were produced for the consumer market over the period of about two years.
What made these dresses so popular? Well, there was the love affair that the Western world was cultivating with the notion of the ultimate inconvenience, but it was more than that. The world was obsessed with all things modern. Remember that the 1960s was the decade of the Space Race and The Jetsons. Americans were especially obsessed with space, technology and all things “space-aged”. Paper dresses seemed the ultimate in modern ready-to-wear. Additionally, the dresses were considered fashion-forward and many featured Pop Art designs or other eye-catching and novel designs, like Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup dress or dresses featuring political candidates.
Andy Warhol’s Souper Dress
Mostly available were simple shift dresses, but the fad even spawned the creation of paper wedding dresses. Paper dresses were so popular they were even featured in Mademoiselle magazine in 1967, which said, “The paper dress is the ultimate in smart money fashion.”
The limitations of paper dresses seemed to be fairly quickly determined and the fad mostly died out by 1968. Even though Mademoiselle might have disagreed, the dresses were not necessarily inexpensive, the average cost was around $8 which was about the cost of a conventional shift dress from Sears Roebuck & Co in 1966, and by their very nature, they were impermanent. Not very sustainable or easy on the budget and most women moved onto the next fashion fad and the manufacture of the dresses ceased.
What a great sustainable message too.