See 1960s paper dresses, the retro dress-in-a-can, foil dresses & other novelty womenswear

Novelty fashion fads of the 60s paper dresses, foil dress-in-a-can

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After seeing the success of disposable 1960s paper dresses like these, some industry experts were elated.

“Five years from now, 75% of the nation will be wearing disposable clothing,” one said, while another said he soon expected annual paper dress sales of $200 million.

Alas, the disposable dress trend was no more than a short-lived fad. Some of the first cut-to-fit foil dresses and paper gowns were novelty promotional items with big logos (like Campbell’s Soup, Butterfinger and Brillo), while several other companies debuted versions you could buy for a dollar and some proofs of purchase.

Not everyone was sold on the concept of “wastebasket dresses,” though. Philadelphia Inquirer fashion editor Rubye Graham wrote in 1961, “Despite all of the promises and savings thee garments hold in store for us, I hope their availability is far in the future — unless, of course, paper looks as beautiful as cloth.”

Even at its best, the paper dresses they made in the sixties couldn’t hold a candle to cloth… and that retro wear-and-toss trend burned out pretty quickly.

1966 Paper dresses beauty premium fashion

Paper dresses now a fashion fact (1966)

By Meta Blackwell – The San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) Dec 11, 1966

It was bound to happen! The paper dress is no longer considered impossible — in fact, it has become an accepted thing.

It’s the newest idea going for young switched-on fashionables. Popularity and acceptance of the paper dress have reached new heights with the introduction of an exclusive design, full-length hostess gown of vivid floral pattern.

1966 Paper dress fashion

Referred to as “The Great Paper Dress,” It’s on the market in the form of a premium, but paper garments in packages also can be found at notion counters in department stores.

The paper dress offered as a premium is high styled in bright, rich colors and there are three sizes, small, medium and large.

It’s just-for-fun, featuring tie shoulders and side slits for ease in walking, and if it’s too long, there’s no problem of alteration — with a handy pair of scissors. And, when you’re through with it, merely toss it into the nearest wastebasket.

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Hallmark paper dresses from 1967

Fashion fad: Vintage 1960s paper dresses

The company offering the dress in the form of a premium, the Johnston Pie Co., worked closely with Scott Paper Co. in developing the dress for wearing at parties or for entertaining at home. Because of its textured appearance, few can guess it is made of paper.

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Those who deplore the fact that it can’t be washed, can take heart, for that’s the next step, and Carnaby St. (U.S.A.) Inc., which is introducing Carnaby St. cosmetics to seven American cities in the next few months, has announced a new decision to manufacture women’s and men’s apparel, made from paper.

Hallmark paper dresses from the 60s - PaperFunAlia - Florescense party fashions

Joe Newman of Beverly Hills, executive director, said the paper clothing is expected to become a $1.5 billion business for the firm within two or three years.

“We are in final negotiations with a major U.S. paper company,” the spokesman said, and “we will license apparel manufacturing firms in 16 U.S. cities, as a start, and work with them on a royalty basis.”

The clothing, according to the official, will range from toddler’s attire to cocktail gowns and tuxedoes, Hawaiian shirts and muumuus. American cities, where manufacturing plants will be located, are Los Angeles, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, St. Louis, Chicago, Shreveport, Miami, Jacksonville, Norfolk, Newark, Boston, Baltimore, New York City, Seattle and Honolulu.

Hallmark Flower Fantasy paper dress from the sixties

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The company anticipates a business volume of $200 million annually in Honolulu, the first city selected for manufacturing and marketing paper clothing.

The Carnaby executive said the cost of each piece of paper clothing will be about twice that of drycleaning cloth apparel. The paper attire, he said, including women’s house dresses and men’s white business shirts, will be washable (one time, two times at the most), and it can be ironed by reversing the material.

Fashions will depend upon preferences where the clothing is manufactured, but will include the “Mod” styles the two-block-long Carnaby Street in London made famous.

Curtiss candy bar paper dresses - Baby Ruth and Butterfinger

The paper yardage may be sewn just like cloth materials, and will reflect a pure degree of color because it is a surface printing process, and there is no saturation of the colors.

The paper is said to be a no-run, no-fade material, which looks like and feels like regular cloth. Negotiations with the paper manufacturing firm are expected to be completed by Christmas, with manufacturing to start on a limited basis in January, to become a major force in the paper apparel market by April.

Little more resistance is expected from the public to an active and profitable market than that which greeted the ballpoint pen, processed foods and 2,000 m.p.h. airplanes.

LIFE Nov 25, 1966 Paper dresses beauty premium fashion 2

The company spokesman predicted the possibility that Production might not catch up with the demand for designed paper clothing for several years. Here, he said, “we rely upon the paper company to produce the material, and there are no looms or mills needed for our clothing.

“Every business in the United States is trying to reduce the amount of paper it uses,” he continued, “microfilm, for example, having replaced tons of it in storage.

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“If we had all the paper in government storehouses turned into pulp, we could print enough apparel to clothe the world for 10 years. “As paper becomes cheaper,” he concluded, “the paper garments will become even less expensive than what we plan to sell them for today.”

1960s paper dresses - Toss-away fashion (1967)

The wastebasket dress has arrived

By Helen Carlton, LIFE magazine – November 25, 1966

This, at last, is the year of the paper dress that can be worn and then tossed in the wastebasket.

They are soft and comfortable to the touch, may be pressed with a cool iron, and are reasonably sturdy. 

One of the chief attractions of a paper dress, of course, is that from any casual distance it does not look like paper at all — but more like cotton fabric. Most of the paperlike characteristics are visible only under close scrutiny. 

Retro minidress made of paper

For example, Kaycel, the Kimberly Stevens paper fabric, has a slightly bumpy surface resembling paper toweling, though its next-of-kin is actually Kleenex. Kaycel is made of 93% cellulose wadding (like Kleenex) plus 7% nylon.

The nylon, which is pressed inside the cellulose wadding, imparts two qualities essential to wearing apparel: strength and what is called “drapability” — i.e., it hangs like cloth.

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With its flame-retardant finish, a paper dress will char, but not flare up when a lighted match is held to it. However, since the retardant tends to come off in water, it is advisable to throw away a dress that has been rained on or pushed into a pool.

This same problem precludes washing or dry cleaning. With normal use, barring spills and snags, a paper dress has remarkable durability; one garment survived a wear test by a woman who did her housework in it every day for a month. (This lady, a motherly type, was understandably a little tired of the dress when the test ended, but her one complaint was interesting in its nostalgia: “I like a dress I can wash.”)

Vintage shaggy-style paper dress from 1966

Paper dress fabric takes color well and can be shortened with scissors. Lengthening, more or less academic with current styles, can be accomplished by pasting on trim — like lace on a valentine.

The fabric does not wrinkle excessively, and can be pressed easily. It rustles slightly in motion, but no more audibly than taffeta.

Wearable paper fabric has been around for a decade in the form of shower slippers, hospital gowns, lobster bibs and the like; but its application to stylish apparel has been very recent.

Vintage Paper Dresses to GoGo from Breck (1967)

Much of the excitement was generated by the phenomenal success of a mail-order dress offered as a promotion for household paper products by the Scott Paper Company. Scott’s paper, called Dura-Weve, is 93% napkin stock and 7% rayon. Half a million orders resulted, and no retailer is going to pass up that sort of market evidence.

Paper apparel’s real pioneers, after years of speaking into deaf ears, are now talking ebulliently about a boundless future.

“Five years from now, 75% of the nation will be wearing disposable clothing,” says Ronald Bard, vice president of Mars Manufacturing Company, a family firm once devoted only to the making of women’s and children’s stretch tights.

Vintage Hallmark paper dress with flowers

Mars has sold 300,000 paper garments since last June, and a New York department store which carries them has been swamped with orders — one from a lady who cabled from London asking for two styles to be air expressed immediately.

Mr. Bard is broadening his firm’s line from dresses to football jerseys, uniforms for service personnel, graduation gowns, children’s wear and undershorts (three for $1) for the traveling salesman. “In paper,” he says, “you are only limited by your imagination.”

The Great Paper Dress - Johnston's Pie offer

Elisa Daggs, another of the early paper prophets, predicts a revolution in dressmaking techniques: “Paper needs its own architecture. Sealing machines will replace sewing machines.”

Farthest-out of all paper’s partisans is Julian Tomehin, a textile designer, who became fascinated with paper when he printed some for the Hartford Museum’s Paper Ball.

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“It’s right for our age,” he says. “After all, who is going to do laundry in space?” Mr. Tomchin also believes that improved techniques will bring prices down until garments will be packaged in tear-off rolls, like sandwich bags, and sold for pennies.

Silver foil paper dresses (1967)

Vintage 1960s gold foil mylar coat (1968)

Vintage 1960s gold foil mylar coat (1968)

The Souper Dress.

It’s a pretty groovy deal just for enjoying Campbell’s Vegetable Soup.

Now’s your chance to get the one, the only Souper Dress . . . a smashing paper put-on that could only come from Campbell’s. It’s got eye-poppin’ Campbell’s cans coming and going! And k’s all yours for eating your vegetables — your Campbell’s Vegetable Soups, that is.

Vintage 60s Campbell's Souper paper dress

You can choose from Campbell’s Old-Fashioned Vegetable, Vegetable Beef, Chicken Vegetable, Vegetarian Vegetable and Turkey Vegetable, as well as good old Campbell’s Vegetable Soup.

To get your Campbell Paper Dress, send the labels from any 2 different kinds of Campbell’s Vegetable Soups, $1.00 and your size (the Souper Dress comes in Small/5-8, Medium/9-12, or Large/13-16) with your name and address (remember your zip code!) to Dress Offer… Offer expires Mar. 31, 1968. Good only in the United States and Puerto Rico. Campbell’s Souper Dress. On you, it’ll look … Mmm, mmm good.

The Souper Dress - Campbell's
Photo via the Smithsonian

The foil dress fad

Alcoa Wrap announces the “Dazzler”trim-to-fit silver dress

The Dazzler catches the light and whirls it about — it’s a shimmering, glimmering sensation. Just trim the length to fit, pop it on and have a ball.

You’ll shimmer and glimmer and turn them all on in your Alcoa Dazzler, a new disposable dress gleaming with Alcoa Aluminum neatly married to the latest nonwoven material.

Vintage Alcoa foil party dress

The Dazzler is being offered for a nominal price and the Better Packaging Label from any box of Alcoa Wrap. The Dazzler catches the light and whirls it about — it’s a shimmering, glimmering sensation. You don’t have to worry about size. You just trim the length to fit, pep it on and dazzle ’em.

You’ll find full details of this offer in the aluminum foil section at your favorite grocer’s. Get your order in early so you’ll have it in time for holiday gatherings.

Metalized paper handkerchief evening dress by Elisa Daggs - Aluminum foil

Vintage silver Brillo paper dress

Get a brand new dress in a can! (1966)

By Meta Blackwell – The San Bernardino County Sun (California) December 11, 1966

Now dresses are available in cans, like vegetables, soups, fruits and practically everything else.

The canned dress idea comes from Patti Cappalli, designer for Whippette, one of the brightest names in young fashion. And what an idea! Imagine a dress so wrinkle-proof it can be packed into a can — along with its own flapper hat, no less!

There are six shapes to choose from . . . six prints to pick. What’s more, if you are looking for a Christmas idea for the smartest girl in town, who already has everything, here it is; and she’ll love the can for cookies, curlers, or what have you, and it comes right with the junior size dress, which has a swingy-clingy shape in a silky texturized Joyce-Ion nylon.

The prints are clangingly bright geometrics and naturally, the can has a gay montage in the same wild, wonderful colors.

Get a brand new dress straight from a can! (1966)

A new kind of canned dressing (1966)

From LIFE magazine – December 9, 1966

What do you do when there’s a sudden invitation to go out and you haven’t a thing to wear? Why, open a can, of course.

Canned dresses, put up like beef stew but sold at department stores instead of supermarkets, are the season’s bright new idea for Christmas giving, and just the thing to keep in the pantry against the dressless rainy day.

Dreamed up by Wippette, a New York dress manufacturer, the dresses sell for $25, come in three styles and six colorful patterns in the 5-to-13 junior-size range, and are made of nylon jersey that packs without undue rumpling.

The containers themselves, far handier than the girl-size one at left, are no bigger than a one-pound tin of coffee. They provide plenty of space for sealed-in prettiness with room left over, at $6 extra, for a matching hat.

Popping out of an overscaled can, this girl wears a long-sleeved canned dress in a bold print with flared skirt. Other styles include a smock and a low-waisted shift.

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Comments on this story

2 Responses

  1. I can imagine that comfort and durability were major issues with paper dresses. Were they itchy and scratchy? What would happen to them if they got rained on or otherwise wet; did they fall apart? (Yikes!!) Was there ever a counterpart for men? And though it wasn’t a concern back then, were they recyclable? I guess the concept of “paper dresses” lives on today in disposable medical and surgical gowns.

    1. The fabric felt like a handi-wipe. It was soft and it draped like fabric. I never saw any shirts for men, but then I wasn’t looking for them. But the way, rayon is basically cellulose, not much different than paper.

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