A Far Away Discovery Close to Home

Being a new graduate student at Iowa State University (ISU) working as the Research Assistant for the Textiles and Clothing Museum (TCM), I have access to a collection of history that is like no other. I am starting to gain familiarity with how things work at the TCM, but I cannot say that I have had the opportunity to explore all of the amazing items in the collection, simply because our collection is rich with objects that are all unique and special. During my first week here, I decided to look inside the storage spaces and see what interesting things I could discover. I know that I have barely scratched the surface of the items I will find within the collection, and I am eager to learn of what else is in store.

Spending some time going through the collection, it will not take long for you to stumble upon a beautiful, unique piece of history. As I began exploring the collection, I came across this breathtaking garment and immediately decided to research its history and learn how it ended up being donated to the collection.

The dress was donated to the Textiles and Clothing Museum by Jorie Ford Butler (Mrs. Geoffrey J. W. Kent) in December 1984. The garment can be described as a black and white evening dress consisting of an over-tunic and a strapless under-dress. The over tunic appears to be made of burnout pile fabric, leaving a floral design. The under-dress has a fitted bodice with a long narrow skirt. Digging deeper into the history of the dress, I found that the donation letter was signed “Butler Company Oak Brook, Illinois”. Having being born and raised in the Chicagoland area, the town of Oak Brook was easily recognizable and sparked a memory of home as I start my journey here in Ames at Iowa State University.

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Learning that this dress had come from somewhere close to home, I became even more intrigued and determined to learn more about it. I learned that Jorie Ford Butler is the daughter of the late Paul Butler, “multimillionaire Oak Brook founder…who in the 1940s had founded Butler Aviation Corp., once the nation’s largest general aviation company. Mr. Butler’s ancestors in 1844 had established the Butler Paper Co. in Chicago” (Goldsborough, 2014). After learning this information, the story began to unfold. Jorie Ford Butler was the daughter of a very wealthy businessman who is known in history as the man who build the town of Oak Brook, IL. Throughout my life I have often spent time in Oak Brook with my family, usually for the outdoor shopping mall and variety of restaurants. Who would have known that the first garment that I interacted with here at the Textiles and Clothing Museum would take me back to where home is? This was such an amazing discovery for me because it proved that however far away home may feel, we all live in a small world and there is always something near that can remind you of home.

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Jorie Ford Butler (Mrs. Geoffrey J.W. Kent) Source: https://www.abercrombiekent.com/about-us/history

Today, Jorie Ford Butler and her husband Geoffrey Kent are head of Abercrombie and Kent which, “allows A&K travelers private, sometimes exclusive access to museums, archaeological sites and cultural attractions around the world” (Abercrombie & Kent, 2018). She enjoys traveling and photography, as well as philanthropy work. It seems as if she is upholding the vision that her father had; to provide people with a lifestyle of luxury that will produce nothing less of heartfelt experiences and memories. The Textiles and Clothing Museum is thrilled to have a piece of her life experience with us to share with the Iowa State University Community.

By Dyese Matthews

Sources:

Abercrombie & Kent. (2018). Abercrombie & Kent History. Retrieved from https://www.abercrombiekent.com/about-us/history

Goldsborough, B. (2014, September 4). Frank Butler of Prominent Oak Brook family dies. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/hinsdale/ct-frank-butler-obit-20140904-story.html

 

 

 

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Paper Clothes of the 1960s: Fad, Failure, or Fabulous?

It is officially spring! Most people are starting to slowly break out their spring/summer clothes and enjoy the warmer weather. Some of you may be headed off to a warm, sunny place for Spring Break, or even just enjoying a few vacation days from work. If you plan on packing light while traveling, maybe you should grab some paper clothes… if you can find any!

During the 1960s, paper clothing actually was a trend in the United States. The 1950s proved to be a more conservative time for fashion, but that began to change during the mid-1960s when the two-piece bikini arrived on the scene (Dust Factory, 2016). Fashion editor Diana Vreeland said that bikinis “reveal everything about a girl except her mother’s maiden name.” Diana Vreeland was not the only person to have an opinion regarding bikini swimsuits; many people during this time viewed bikinis as indecent and the swimwear was even prohibited at some American public parks and beaches (Webber-Hanchett, http://fashion-history.lovetoknow.com/clothing-types-styles/bikini).

Despite the controversy surround bikinis, they became more popular among young women, and a new fad arose: paper bikinis. Typically during the 1960s, swimsuits were made of nylon or Lycra or a combination of the two (Dust Factory, 2016) You may ask yourself, “Why would anyone want to wear a paper bikini?” Well, paper bikinis and dresses were part of  a “throwaway fashion” fad in the 1960s (Lyons, 2015). During this paper clothing fad, hotel chains would  keep paper resort clothes on stock for purchase, and then the consumer could throw it away once the vacation was over (Buck, 2017). The paper clothing trend went as far as paper wedding dresses (Buck, 2017).

 

The paper fashion trends did not start in the fashion industry by avant garde fashion designers, but rather, in Wisconsin in 1966 at the Scott Paper Company (Wisconsin Historical Society, 2008). Yes, the company that makes napkins started the trend of making paper clothing. Scott Paper Company wanted to use the paper dresses as a marketing and publicity tool (Glamoursurf, 2008). Scott Paper Company wanted to promote their Dura Weve material paper napkins by creating shift dresses made of same material (Wisconsin Historical Society, 2008). When consumers purchased a dress (at a whopping $1.25), they received coupons for Scott brand products like toilet paper, napkins, and so on (Wisconsin Historical Society, 2008).

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Scott Paper Company paper dress advertisement in Life Magazine (1966). Source: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS2643

Six months in, Scott ended the advertising campaign because they “didn’t want to turn into dress manufacturers” while other companies chose to keep the paper fashion trend going (Wisconsin Historical Society, 2008). Fashion designers and companies such as Campbells, Mars Manufacturing Company, Ossie Clarke, and Celia Birkwell all played a role in keeping the paper clothes fad alive (Wisconsin Historical Society, 2008; Lyons, 2015; GlamourSplash, 2008).

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Paper Dress by Mars Manufacturing Company, circa 1965. Source: Textiles and Clothing Museum collection, Iowa State University

As quickly as the paper fashion fad rose to popularity, it faded out just as quickly. Towards the 1970s, there was a shift from the “mod” style of the 1960s to a more environmentalist and sustainable movement where people opted for a more earthy style (Buck, 2017). Disposable clothing was officially out of style (Buck, 2017). Although paper swimwear and dresses were a short-lived trend in American fashion, traces of the paper fad can still be seen today. Some believe that paper fashion of the 1960s was also a precursor to “fast-fashion” consumerism today where many of us purchase clothing, wear it once or twice, and then toss it out (Buck, 2017). Contemporary designers such as Helmut Lang, Hussein Chalayan, and James Rosenquist have all incorporated paper garments in their collections during the 1990s and 2000s (Lyons, 2015). Materials that were once used to create paper clothing in the 1960s are still being used today, in more utilitarian ways, such as disposable diapers, bibs, or even garments for hospital patients (Wisconsin Historical Society, 2008).

By Courtney D. Johnson

Sources:

Buck, S. (2017). This wild paper clothing trend of the 1960s was the early version of fast-fashion. Retrieved from: https://timeline.com/paper-fashion-1960s-43dd00590bce

Lyons, K. (2015). Dare to Tear: Paper fashions in the 1960s. Retrieved from: http://costumesociety.org.uk/blog/post/dare-to-tear-paper-fashions-in-the-1960s

Retro 1960s Swimwear, Beachwear and Surf Fashion. Retrieved from: http://dustfactoryvintage.com/retro-1960s-swimwear-beachwear-and-surf-fashion/

The Disposable Dresses of 1967. (2008) Retrieved from: http://www.glamoursplash.com/2008/11/disposable-paper-dresses-of-1967.html

Webber-Hanchett, T. Bikini. Retrieved from: http://fashion-history.lovetoknow.com/clothing-types-styles/bikini

Wisconsin Historical Society. 1960s Paper Dress. Retrieved from: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS2643

Would You Believe It’s Paper? (2009). Retrieved from: http://blog.fidmmuseum.org/museum/2009/09/would-you-believe-its-paper.html