In 1966, the Scott Paper Company introduced two paper dresses to promote its new line of “Color Explosion” paper products. The dresses came in two patterns and were a simple A-line shape that could be cut with scissors to the desired hem length. A customer could send the company $1.25 and receive a dress, along with coupons for Scott’s toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins. The dresses were made of cellulose pulp that was reinforced with a nylon webbing to improve durability and drape. The company was so overwhelmed by orders that it abruptly ended the promotion after just six months. Other manufacturers took up the mantle of paper dress manufacture, however, and the fad continued for the next three years.
Campbell Soup Company created the “Souper Dress” that is printed with a repeat of their popular tomato soup cans. It piggybacked off the success of pop artist Andy Warhol, whose artwork entitled, Campbell’s Soup Cans, debuted years earlier in 1962. The Yellow Pages company also produced a dress in order to promote their phone directory publication. Paper dresses were not limited to corporate advertising, however, as traditional manufacturers, as well as new start-ups, began to produce paper dresses in various prints and patterns.
Textile designer Julie Tomchin remarked to Life magazine in 1966, “After all, who is going to do laundry in space?” The space race of the 1960’s was an important influence on fashion during this decade, particularly in the collections of André Courrèges and Pierre Cardin. People, such as Tomchin, had begun to consider what the future might look like and how people might dress in their new environment. Disposable paper clothing could be the answer. Some paper dresses, such as the one featured in this post that depicts the image of the Mercury Atlas Rocket, directly reference this growing interest in space exploration.
This dress is one in a series of five designed by artist Harry Gordon for London Paper Dresses Ltd. The five poster dress designs included the ‘Mystic Eye Dress’, ‘Giant Rocket Dress’, ‘Rose Dress’, ‘Pussy Cat Dress’ and ‘Hand Dress’. They were released in 1968. The rocket depicted is the Mercury Atlas Rocket. The Mercury missions were the first manned American space flights. The dress also includes a Velcro closure on the shoulder, a direct result of textile innovations related to space travel.
Mars of Asheville (NC) was one of the major manufacturers of paper dresses during their brief period of popularity. Mars of Asheville, claimed to be “The Pioneer in Disposable Fashion.” This post features a cap-sleeved paper dress with multi-colored paisley and floral motifs that was part of their “Waste Basket Boutique” collection. The fabric care labels in these dresses state:
“Do not wash. This material is fire resistant unless washed or dry cleaned. Then it becomes dangerously flammable when dry.”
The Yellow Pages was another “Waste Basket Boutique” dress by Mars of Asheville. It is a yellow/gold non-woven fabric with a collage print design of yellow pages telephone book ads. It was available by sending in your request with “one dollar each including postage.” It, like the others, arrived with care and cut-to-hem instructions, as well as a convenient re-order form.
Most of the dresses in this exhibit are very simple A-line shifts with little to no construction complexity. They are sleeve and collar-less and fasten simply with ties or Velcro. This dress, however, is unusual in that it is fully fashioned with a mandarin collar, long sleeves with cuffs, patch pockets and a back zipper closure.
The fad for paper fashion was ultimately short-lived as concerns about pollution and waste began to emerge. Books, such as Rachel Carson’s, Silent Spring, drew attention to the health risks of pesticides and manufacturing. Subsequently, the interest in fast disposable fashion began to wane and by 1969 most disposable clothing transitioned from articles of fashion to more practical uses, such as disposable sheets and scrubs still used in the medical field today.