Far-Out Fashions of the 1960’s: The Era of the Paper Dress

James R. Coffey By James R. Coffey, 4th Feb 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/1fwhpye1/
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Culture>General

Paper clothing, in the form of women's dresses and other clothes made from disposable cellulose fabric, was a short-lived fashion novelty item in the 1960s United States in 1969.

The Mod Era

Between the Beatnik era of the early 60s and the Hippie period of the late 60s, came a period in American pop subculture known as the “Mod” era.

Originating in London, England in the late 1950s, “Mod” (from the term “modernist”) peaked in the early-to-mid 1960s in England and brought to the US the popular use of motor scooters (which became a trendy mode of transportation especially in California), coffee houses (which sprouted up all over California and New Your City‘s Lower east Side), and the new “fashion obsessed” world of androgynous haircuts, “Beatle” boots, and minishirts. And from this cultural phenomena arose the paper garment industry, which for a short time appeared to be the wave of the future.

The Scott Paper Company

Between 1966 and 1968, hundreds of thousands of disposable, paper clothes were made. At the time, with all thoughts turned toward the sky, living in outer space looked like a real likelihood and as one textile designer stated for Life Magazine, "Who is going to do laundry in space?"

The Scott Paper Company, with factories in Marinette and Oconto Falls, Wisconsin, created the catalyst for the phenomenon in the spring of 1966 when it introduced two new paper dresses as premiums to promote its new line of "Color Explosion" paper products. The company produced its two dresses with "gift wrap" designs, one a black and white pop art pattern, the other an orange-red, yellow, and black Paisley design.

"Paper Caper"

Scott's dresses, sold as "Paper Caper" products, were not made purely from paper, but an "un-paper" the Scott company called Dura Weve. This consisted of 93% paper-napkin stock reinforced with rayon webbing, a combination that made the material more durable than standard paper and gave it a more fabric-like drape. The dresses came in the two prints, four sizes, but only one style—an A-line shift cut from two pieces with no sleeves and a patch pocket on the hip. Customers who purchased the paper dresses paid $1.25 and received coupons for Scott's toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins.

When orders for half a million paper dresses poured in, the promotion overwhelmed the Scott Company (who conceived it as purely a promotional venture), so six months after it began, company executives abruptly ended the advertising campaign stating they "didn't want to turn into dress manufacturers."

Exit Scott, enter Mars

When Scott stepped out of the paper garment game, other companies seeking to capitalize on the unexpected trend, quickly opened shop.

Breck shampoo offered two mini-skirted "mod-styled" paper dresses as a way to target the youth market, and Air India introduced a paper sari with the enticement, "Be the first princess in the palace to own one."

In June 1966, Mars Manufacturing Company of Asheville, North Carolina, a hosiery and swimsuit business, brought out a line of paper clothing that could be purchased at J.C. Penney's and Sears, Roebuck & Co.

In the first three months, Mars sold 120,000 dresses that retailed for $1.29 each. By early 1967 the demand so overwhelmed the supply of the paper source appropriate for paper clothing that a brief panic among paper garment manufacturers ensued.

"Paper Posh, Disposable Elegance"

While Mars dominated the paper clothing business for the general public, others sold more expensive versions to upper-class clientele.

Tzaims Luksus, for example, designed full-length hand-painted paper ball gowns, valued at $1000, for an October 1966 event at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford, Connecticut. The museum kept the dresses, even though one ripped during the ball and had to be repaired with tape.

Early the next year Look Magazine published a fashion spread, "Paper Posh, Disposable Elegance" that featured high-end paper dresses in gold and silver metallics and studded with "gems." These upscale dresses did not have the feel of paper napkins like the Scott's dresses; instead they were made of a stiffer, coated paper. Paper manufacturer Kimberly-Stevens made one version of this product that they called Kaycel, a base paper meant to be coated with Mylar (a clear plastic) and fire-retardant chemicals.

In the end . . . they were disposable

Paper clothes with their wild designs and trendy geometrical lines represented an interest in combining fashion, pop art, and popular culture that emerged in the mid 1960s.

According to one costume historian, paper dresses also fulfilled a need of the post-Depression, post-World War II generation to rebel against a status quo that valued durability. "Ephemeral objects satiated a desire for owning contemporary products, ones that could be easily replaced as the definition of 'contemporary' changed."

In the midst of the mad rush for paper clothes, many thought they would replace some traditional clothing. The fashion designer quoted from Life Magazine at the beginning of this article thought paper clothes would eventually be sold in tear-off rolls for only pennies each. In reality, fashionable paper clothes died out rather suddenly, as "Mod" and Pop styles supplanted by the 'back-to-nature' Hippie lifestyle and as concerns about pollution and waste materialized.


images via Wikipedia.com, Look archives, and Life archives

Related Articles:
Greenwich Village



1960S, 60S, American Fashions, American History, American Pop Culture, American Pop Subculture, Breck Shampoo, Hippie, Hippie Counterculture, Hippie Culture, Hippies, Mars Manufacturing, Paper Clothes, Paper Clothing, Scott Paper Company, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum

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author avatar James R. Coffey
I am founder and head writer for James R. Coffey Writing Services and Resource Center @ http://james-r-coffey-writing-services.blogspot.com/ where I offer a variety of writing and research services including article composition, ghostwriting, editing...(more)

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author avatar Jerry Walch
4th Feb 2011 (#)

An interesting trip down memory lane.

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author avatar bronnamdi
4th Feb 2011 (#)

A nice story. I was actually following the models around wearing their paper dresses.

In fact, I almost tried one only that I did not know if men also had paper trousers.

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author avatar James R. Coffey
4th Feb 2011 (#)

Thanks, gentlemen!

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author avatar Denise O
5th Feb 2011 (#)

James, I still have a few of your articles in the my oven for when I come back but, I had to check this out. Very interesting subject and well researched. I guess I missed the craze, as we were living in Japan at the time. I just don't remember it at all. Nice read.
Thank you for sharing.:)

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author avatar rajaryanme
5th Feb 2011 (#)

You bring the classic theme through this post. A great write up.

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author avatar James R. Coffey
5th Feb 2011 (#)

Thanks for your comments, Denise and rajaryanme. Appreciated.

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author avatar Olivia
3rd Mar 2011 (#)

I was just wondering what historian wrote the below quote used in your article? i'm writing an esay about the disposable 60s and am hoping to find some kind of starting point:

' "Ephemeral objects satiated a desire for owning contemporary products, ones that could be easily replaced as the definition of 'contemporary' changed."

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author avatar Humza
29th Apr 2011 (#)

an interesting journey james!
thanx alot for that!

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author avatar James R. Coffey
29th Apr 2011 (#)

I'm afraid the best I can offer at this late date, Olivia, is to tell you that the quote came from one of the original Look or Life articles, which I accessed thru their respective archives.

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author avatar frizzbnz
21st May 2011 (#)

I remember the craze -- I remember the mini shirts and the beatle boots ummm I beleive I owned some of the former. Awesome article -- thanks for the memories.

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author avatar James R. Coffey
21st May 2011 (#)

Yes, craze is probably the appropriate term!

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