Paper Dresses of the 1960s

This was a popular fad of the 1960s, one you, your mother, your aunt or even grandmother may have been a part of. It was a short-lived trend in fashion to serve the masses clothing for a fraction of the price of even the cheapest fabric dress. They were iconic fashion elements of the era. Being disposable and very fragile, decades later very few have survived. HOWEVER, maybe someone in your family did care and save their ‘paper dress’ all these years.

The concept began in 1966 when Scott Paper Company created a series of paper dresses to promote their new line of paper products (paper towels, napkins) which featured very bright colors. These paper dresses of 1966 came in just red bandana paisley and in a black and white optical illusion print. They were called ‘Paper Capers’ and included instructions of how to wear them. The instructions stated: “Your Paper Caper is an all-paper dress and intended for one time wear only. It is flame-resistant, but washing, dry cleaning, or soaking will make the dress dangerously flammable when dry.”

As the promotion of Scott Company’s new paper product, the customer sent in 2 proofs of purchase and $1.25 to receive a paper dress in the return mail. To compare, the Sears catalog had basic cotton shift dresses for $5.00 to 10.00.

The paper dress was made of a new cellulose fabric called ‘Duraweave’ and the design was simple, sleeveless and in a A-line style. After made each dress was treated to resist fire and other elements. At the same time, other companies had been designing and creating a paper dress for use in hospitals, nuclear plants and in medical facilities.

By the end of 1966, half a million Scott dresses had been ordered and sent to customers. Customers loved that the hemline could be altered with a pair of scissors. Being so popular other companies did the same, create these flame-resistant disposable dresses. Some of those companies put their logo or company design on the dress for promotional purposes, such as Yellow Pages, Green Giant, Campbell Soups and others. National sales topped $3.5 million.

The most famous was the Souper Dress with a Campbell soup design and made with 20% cotton, which still could not be washed but it could be ironed.

Another unique idea was selling plain paper dresses along with a set of watercolor paints and encourage the wearer to design their own artwork on the dress. Other clothing was developed including raincoat and bikinis which could only be used 3 times. By 1967 the demand for paper was so high there was a shortage of all paper products.

It was thought to be so popular because of the late 1960s opinion of “Won’t last forever … who cares?” Hotel resort chains even planned to stock paper outfits so travelers just purchased what they needed and didn’t have to pack their suitcases.

Come to the 1968 Presidential campaign, the Nixon supporters had paper dresses printed with the Nixon logo all over them.

People were beginning to see the landfills were having more of the discarded paper clothing.

But alas, the fad was over by 1970, now a totally discarded fashion fad of the decade. People stated later what they disliked about the dresses. They were stiff to wear or sit in, they were scratchy, could only be used once and wrinkled easily.

In the 21st century, those paper dresses in good shape and condition can sell for $10 to $200 dollars. But the iconic Souper Dress can sell a lot more money. One used Souper Dress in 2020 sold for $1,200. If it was unused and perfect, it could sell for $5,500.

Check with your relatives, see if they ever had such a fashion iconic dress.

Photos: Scott Paper dress of 1966; Yellow Pages dress (front and back); Campbell Soup dress; colorful paper dress and the 1968 Nixon dress.

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Worn after Labor Day

Fads of the 1960s

Slang Terms during the 1960s

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