Paper Dress 1The innovative idea of a paper dress has become an icon of the generation that felt disposable. The throwaway accessory to life began as a small marketing idea that exploded into a short trend during the late 1960’s.  With a recent revival in interest in paper dresses, its worth a look back at the history of the trend…

(All pictures courtesy of respective websites)

Lynette Thumbnail The paper dress was born in 1966 in a promotion from Scott Paper Company. To demonstrate a competitive edge, “Scott had developed its Dura-Weve paper fabric with the intention of marketing disposable medical products such as linens, towels, and wipes, but in 1966 it also sold 50,000 disposable dresses for $1.25 each in grocery stores to promote its new colored tissues.” The idea was a hit!.

The trend was made possible by the new adaptation as a “throw away society”. America was on a roll and any cut corners meant extra time. Throwaway plates, cups, napkins, and diapers had just come into effect. The creative uses seemed endless. It was even rumored that “In 1967, the paper dress seemed so practical and modern, it was predicted that by 1980, 25% of all money spent on clothing would go toward the purchase of paper clothes.”

Paper Dress 2
Pictured: In hopes of encouraging customers to go “luggage free” vacation resorts sold disposable outfits. (http://vintageconnection.net/PaperDresses.htm )

The arms of this papery trend extended to wedding dresses, maternity clothes, evening dress, underwear, diapers, “paper slippers, paper bell-bottom suits and waterproofed paper raincoats and bikinis. There was even a paper dress invented that grew herbs when water was added.” To show how far some were willing to deliver , “Hallmark Cards marketed a complete paper party kit: a flower-printed shift with matching cups, plates, place mats, napkins, matches and even invitations.” Talk about blending into the party.

Campbell Dress
Pictured : “The Souper Dress” can be seen as a highbred collaboration between Pop artist Andy Warhol’s and Campbell Soup Company. Located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (http://www.metmuseum.org/Works_of_Art/ )

Some questioned the attempts to make the dresses more durable.  For example dresses dipped in flame resistant compounds find their fire protection starting to wear away after the first wash. A small warning was included on many of the dresses that paper dresses are fragile and sensitive to light. The disposable dress was only meant to be worn around 2 times but some wore it up to 20 times. The comfort and aesthetics of the look were also brought into question.  The usual A-line cut dress has been commented on as a shapeless paper bag that feels like a dryer sheet or a dry baby wipe. Sounds comfortable.

Paper Dress 3
Pictured : Waste Basket Boutique was one of the leading distributors selling 80,000 to 100,000 a week.  (http://www.ashevilleart.org/previous-exhibitions/groovy-garb-paper-clothing-from-mars-manufacturing-co.html)

On the positive side, these paper garment could be a friend to everyone. There was no need to know how to sew, just use scissors and duck tape. The dresses are a perfect expression for those who like experimental things. This fashion gave the youth during the Vietnam Era a way to set themselves apart. As for the design, everything was available from a blank canvas, the yellow pages, rockets, Bob Dylan, and for those politically minded a vintage 1968 poncho with “Romney for President”!

Paper Dress 4
Pictured: Harry Gordon demonstrates his attention grabbing skill through his “Eye” Poster Dress. (http://www.geocities.com/FashionAvenue/Catwalk/1038/paperclothes.html )

Yet eventually this trend, like so many others, went up in flames. Several parties and a few torched dresses later turned out to be a dazzling turn off. Besides, from the plentiful marketing ideas, the endless paper possibilities finally ran dry. The afterthought of a “throw away society” lost its appeal to the forethought of recycling. A new trend would have to emerge.

It took thirty years but by 1999 Sarah Caplan had an idea. She formed her company MPH (Miles Per Hour) Design to modernized the paper dress by using Tyvek fabric which is machine washable, tear-proof, water resistant and recyclable. Wanting to do more than just update the material, Caplan went on to modernize the icons. Lauren Parker’s article Body Art comments on how Caplan’s work has “powerful images reflective of a bigger, faster mentality… ‘It all about speed now,” Caplan says. “Things are spinning out of control with technology and communications. Time is out of balance.”

Marlan Dress
Pictured: Sarah Caplan’s new designs such as “Twin Towers” have helped modernize the idea of a Paper dress.
(http://www.mphdesign.net/MPHdresses.html )

Now that the old trend is up to date, the same disposable message disposable is still there. The only difference between then and now is that the prior vices of the paper dress have been defeated by modern technology.

To learn more click on some of the highlighted links.

To view MPH designs go to http://www.mphdesign.net/MPHdresses.html