Paper Dresses and Ingenuity: A New Look at Fad Fashion

The 60’s: Rock n’ Roll, LSD, and...paper dresses? Yep, paper dresses- a marketing gimmick turned million dollar industry swept the country with a molten quickness from 1966 to 1968. It was the granddaddy of the Instagram trend phenomenon, birthing a viral trend without the internet. Our ancestors were ingenious.

What was it about paper dresses that caught on so? And how did this change the way we, the American public relate to fashion? I attempt to explore these questions in this article, and I invite you, the valued readers of DFW Style Daily to come along. Perhaps putting fad culture in a historical context, we can see the value in this phenomenon as a birthing place of #Girlbosses, creative innovators, and zeitgeist shifts.

Scott Paper Co.- 1966 promotes its new line of napkins with paper dresses of the same material, and sparks a huge trend in women’s fashion. The tagline? “Won’t last forever...who cares? Wear it for kicks- then give it the air!”

The company gave away $1.25 dollar dresses in order to gain buzz around their idiosyncratic Dura-weve material- 93 percent paper stock, and 7 percent rayon scrim. They sold 500,000 units within the first eight months in an unforeseen wave of consumer mania.

The 1966 debut saw some serious revenue. In the first year alone, American sales hit 3.5 million and grew exponentially into 1967, where an industry cropped up around the gimmick, and found demand exceeded the goods. Shortages in January 1967, attested to paper fashion’s short-lived yet intense popularity.

Although this trend found initial impact as a novel innovation, paper clothing had been around the annals of fashion history for a while. It had a moment in the 18th century with paper cuffs and collars. Women used these collars in order to dress up long worn wardrobes.

Paper clothing also appeared briefly in the 1920s. This time around, it was utilized primarily in men’s fashion. Paper suits, imported from Germany, found a lukewarm reception with the American male. The saving grace came through the pricetag- 89 cents to the usual $30 dollars for a wool coat. Although a few brave souls did don these cheap paper suits, they were eventually ruled out as impractical.

But when this trend came around again it was a far cry from the frugal, and sober wartime fashions.The pendulum had swung from one end to the other. This was the era for experimentation, color, style expansion, and disposability. Mod-style was in, and this meant boxy shift dresses with shaped mini-skirts- the perfect structure for the Dura-weve material.

This new trend wasn’t just for the ladies either! Kiddos were an ideal target demographic on account of their growth spurts. Men, too, were included. There were paper overalls, vests, bell-bottom pants and tunics.

The paper fashion did not remain with the Scott paper company. Even high-end designers and fashion houses such as Ossie Clarke and Celia Birtwell, Elisa Daggs, Poster Dress Ltd. and Wastebasket Boutique, created their own versions of paper clothing.

The Saturday Evening Post wrote,

“Internationally, paper has given us a rare chance to pull ahead of the French. We may have lagged behind for years in haute couture, but our new crew of throwaway designers has been able to start from scratch.”

Though these items could have been considered tacky, they actually introduced a way to relate to clothing with authenticity and adventure. Much of the paper clothing could be customized. Folks could color the clothing, add shapes, and display their own art. A concrete example of this was Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell soup piece which became a popular (ironic) print for the paper dresses.

This level of creativity in regards to clothing had not been seen before this time. It gave rise to a new zeitgeist. Many would call this the birth of “Throw-away fashion,” or the “Plastic Generation.” However, it could be argued that the American public got its first taste of style autonomy.

Nowadays, one can go to the internet and find a range of services which allow customization. There’s shoe customization, phone case customization, you name it.

It’s this creative democracy that can allow women in rural India to sell their traditional, artisanal designs and thereby make a living. It’s this equal access to innovation which gives rise to the #GirlBosses, local creatives, and small-scale business which, we here, at DFW Style Daily love to support and highlight (click here, here and here for features).

Though the paper dress faded away with the ‘60s, the spirit of creativity it birthed continues to grow today. Therefore, we look to the past, that we may understand the present. More importantly, we celebrate the past, that we may celebrate today.

Images courtesy of, Vogue,,

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