"Paper clothing, apparently, is here to stay" reads a Time magazine article from May 1967. Uh-huh. Well, it's now 43 years later and I've yet to see an article of clothing made from paper, but in the mid to late 60s this fad enjoyed some moderate popularity among swinging fashionistas. A fascination with space age inspired style plus the influx of disposable household items such as cups, plates and diapers set the stage to give paper "fabric" its 15 minutes of fame.
The first paper dress was introduced by Scott Paper Company in 1966 and offered through the mail at $1 a pop. The dress' shapeless chemise style was ugly and unflattering (although available in a red paisley or black and white op art pattern) and to the company's amazement, they received over 500,000 orders within an eight month span. Soon, other companies jumped on the paper chase bandwagon. Hallmark offered "hostess dresses" that were meant to match party napkins, tablecloths, and other accessories. You could mail order an Andy Warhol inspired Campbell's Soup paper dress. Dresses that featured the images of political figures running for office became popular. Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor, among many other notable department stores, opened up paper departments. Some companies began experimenting with paper hats, aprons, pillow cases, slippers, and even bikinis (which they claimed could last through a few swimming sessions.) Apparently even the Beatles showed up at an event wearing paper men's suits.
None of this clothing was actually made of paper as we think of it. The material was a combination of cellulose reinforced with a bit of synthetic thread such as nylon or rayon. It wouldn't rip or tear with normal wear, but it certainly wasn't as durable as regular fabric. In fact, most paper clothing was meant to last through a dozen wearings or so before you'd throw it away. With most dresses selling for just a few dollars, it certainly was an economical alternative.
In typical 60s fashion, one of the weirdest paper dresses was embedded with seeds and would actually grow flowers if you watered it!
So what made this low cost, quirky fad finally fall out of fashion? It wasn't that the dresses would rip easily or really all that impractical, but that they were highly flammable. Manufacturers caught onto the danger and started to add flame retardants to the paper, but by then it was already falling out of favor. They were also said to be itchy and uncomfortable to wear.
Today, of course, any paper clothing that's survived until now is considered a collector's item. Here's some of the images I found of paper dresses while scouring Google images. If you owned a piece of paper clothing, I'd love to hear about it!
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