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).

paper_dress, scott company(1)

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

 

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