The throw-away paper dress was introduced and dubbed “The Wastebasket Dress” by Life magazine, due to its disposable nature. Originally conceived by the Scott Paper Company in 1966, the sleeveless dresses came in a variety of wild patterns, and could be altered in moments with a pair of scissors.
Scott never imagined the extent of the hysteria for the paper dress, and in just six months, half a million dresses were sold. Unable to keep up with production, and coasting on the most successful advertising gimmick of the decade, Scott sold the rights to the paper dress to a line of salivating entrepreneurs.
NASA had created paper clothing in 1962 for its astronauts. They were cheap, lightweight, and if they got dirty, they could simply be scrunched up and tossed out the hatch (this was before ‘biodegrade’ and ‘recycle’ became household words).
Scott’s version was touted as reusable for about a week before it would fall apart, and if pieces got dirty, you could just snip off the stained parts for a whole new look. This way dresses could become tops or skirts, with the help of scissors and imagination.
Paper apparel was being touted as the next wave of fashion. It was inexpensive, quick to make, and was tons of fun. Plain dresses were sold with crayons for the artistically adventurous to design their own dresses, and Hallmark sold a party pack of paper cups, paper plates and a matching dress for the hostess. And if the kids spilt punch on the floor, you could clean it up with your skirt.
Dupont further advanced the science of paper construction, creating a durable bonded synthetic fibre paper product that would be an early form of the miraculous modern Tyvek (of which there are paper dresses made today).
This product could get wet, endure activity, and didn’t fall apart. Hotels offered their guests disposable paper swimsuits, usable for a short stay and guaranteed to hold up in the swimming pool.
Paper clothing was totally egalitarian, and could easily be personalised with pictures or a company’s logo. A New York City boutique called Indispensable Disposables sold nothing but paper clothing and accessories.
Even renowned pop artist Andy Warhol got into the action with his ‘souper’ dress of printed Campbell’s soup cans.
Even US Presidential candidate Richard Nixon wooed female supporters with “Nixon” printed paper dresses.
The world was enjoying the freedom of a completely disposable society, and all was well until the dawn of the hippies, who returned to nature, shunning the space-age technology of the industrial world.
They were concerned with the outrageous amounts of garbage piling up on our Earth and rejected the throwaway beliefs. Recycling became the new craze, along with wearing used, ‘vintage’ clothing.
Throwaway paper clothing suddenly didn’t seem as attractive, and certainly not ‘Earth-friendly.’
Some garments, like hospital gowns and surgical scrubs, are still made of paper, but the paper clothing industry never replaced traditional materials the way future-thinkers believed.
After the 1960s the paper craze fell apart. Paper proved to be too fragile, too inconvenient, and just too trendy to last.