When paper was fashion’s favorite material

The paper dress was a hit on the fashion radar, popular for only two years, between 1966 and 1968. But when these dresses hit the market, they couldn’t be made quickly enough. As art historians and curators Stamos Fafalios and Vassilis Zidianakis write, thousands of dresses were produced and sold in “drugstores, supermarkets, department stores and mail order in exchange for cut coupons and box tops.” But this short fad had a lasting impact. As Fafalios and Zidianakis argue, “its fusion of paper, visual art, wearable form and consumer delight encapsulates a culturally dynamic moment and remains a source of inspiration for contemporary artists and designers”.

Paper clothes had been worn long before they became fashionable. In Japan, for example, paper clothing dates back over a thousand years. “According to legend,” write Fafalios and Zidianakis, “in 988 a Buddhist monk” made a shirt from “the pages of the old sutra”. This was called kamiko, a technique in which clothing was made from “strong sheets of paper which [had] been softened and starched with vegetable juice. Shifu, a method of weaving using strips of paper, was introduced to Japan in the 16th century. In 1907, a paper yarn was developed in France, with contemporary reports describing it as “strong, non-shrink, impervious to moisture, non-flammable and [costing] two thirds less than cotton.

The first paper dresses in the United States were actually marketing items. In 1966, the Scott Paper Company released the “Paper Caper” dress to advertise their new brand of toilet paper, paper towels and napkins. As historian Joseph E. Kapler Jr., for $ 1.25, customers received a dress and ‘also received coupons for Scott’s [products]. “More than half a million orders have been placed. Yet, as Fafalios and Zidianakis point out, not all dresses were made of paper:“ their components included cotton, rayon, polyester and synthetic fibers. new technology in addition to cellulose.

But these dresses had one thing in common with paper: They were designed to be used once and thrown away. It was appropriate at the time, explain Fafalios and Zidianakis. The younger generations of post-war America were getting used to single-use items, like cups, tablecloths, and diapers, and paper fashions reflected the desire for “affordable, fashionable and affordable design. futuristic”. And for manufacturers, these items were cheap to make.

Others quickly followed Scott’s lead and began producing paper dresses that advertised everything from movies to alcohol. A few airlines have made paper uniforms for their flight attendants. Presidential candidates who perhaps disagreed on much agreed on this point: they needed paper dresses. Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller, George Romney, Eugene McCarthy, and Robert F. Kennedy each had paper dresses made for the 1968 election. Andy Warhol, whose pop-art style influenced many dress designs, stood by got into the act by creating a paper dress for singer Nico. In 1966, the Mars Manufacturing Company introduced a plain white DIY dress complete with watercolors and a paintbrush.

But, like dresses, the trend didn’t last. Scott Paper stopped producing its own after six months because the company “didn’t want to turn into clothing manufacturers,” says Kapler. And growing concerns about the environment meant that availability declined as a selling point; fashion faded in 1968.

While these dresses reflect their time in many ways, from design to disposable, Fafalios and Zidianakis write that they also reflect today’s culture: “the goal of bringing art and life together remains entirely contemporary” .

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By: Stamos Fafalios and Vassilis Zidianakis

Art in Print, Vol. 4, n ° 3 (September – October 2014), pp. 14-17

Art criticism in print

By: Joe Kapler

The Wisconsin History Magazine, Vol. 92, n ° 1 (autumn 2008), pp. 20-25

Wisconsin Historical Society

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