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Friday, November 21, 2008

The Disposable Paper Dresses of 1967

'Disposable' clothing reached its peak around 1966 - 68 but was generally more of a gimmick than a viable alternative. Society was adopting an increasingly 'throw-away' attitude; disposable cutlery, and cigarette lighters were already commonplace. Throw-away clothes, furniture etc. were the next logical step.

In 1966, Scott Paper Company invented the paper dress, intended as a marketing and publicity tool. For one dollar, women could buy the dress and also receive coupons for Scott paper products. It originally came in two designs, a black and white Op Art motif and a red bandanna pattern. Scott advertisers described the paper dress as "created to make you the conversation piece at parties. Smashingly different at dances or perfectly packaged at picnics. Wear it anytime...anywhere. Won't last forever...who cares? Wear it for kicks -- then give it the air." When orders for half a million dresses poured in, the promotion overwhelmed the Scott Company. Six months after it began, company executives abruptly ended the advertising campaign stating they "didn't want to turn into dress manufacturers."

When Scott stepped out of the paper garment industry, others quickly filled the void. By 1967, Mars Manufacturing Company of Asheville was the nation's leading producer of paper dresses, selling 80,000 to 100,000 a week. From its basic A-line shift, the company expanded its line to include bell-bottom jump suits, evening gowns, aprons, men's vests, children's dresses and even swimming trunks.

What began as a mail order business turned into a huge fad. Paper dresses were sold conveniently in drug and grocery stores as well as department stores and boutiques. Consumers often could buy matching paper party decorations right along with the disposable clothes. The disposability of the garments and their expedient purchase implied modernity and leisure. Paper dresses were an attractive alternative since you could shorten them with a pair of scissors and mend them with scotch tape, or throw them away when they got soiled.

Paper dresses were a little more than just paper; they were usually composed of 93% cellulose and 7% nylon (like dry baby wipes), or sometimes made of "Dura-Weve," which was cellulose reinforced with rayon. Although they were indeed more fragile than cloth, they were not likely to rip at the slightest move. Many paper clothes also featured closures of Velcro, making them seem even more "space-age."

One of the most recognizable paper dresses of 1967 was 'The Souper Dress' put out by Campbells in 1967. You could get this dress by sending in labels and a small amount of cash. The inspiration of this dress came from Andy Warhol, but he did not design this dress or have any involvement in its creation.

When paper clothing hit the UK's shores in 1967, even the Beatles got in on the fad and wore paper jackets in public. However, disposable clothes were not really much cheaper to make than ordinary dress production. The rage for paper lasted a short time and by 1974 it was already passé. Fashionable paper clothes died out rather suddenly, as Mod and Pop styles were replaced by the back-to-nature hippie lifestyle and as concerns about pollution, waste and flamability materialized.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Loving your blog! Just to let you know, I've used the Souper Dress in my blog, designKULTUR. Thanks for being such a great resource. Best, Michael