Paper Garments in the Real World
inJuly 19, 2012 - 8:44am
Cowboy Rick spent the last two weeks in the hospital. Because of his lowered immune system, every time the nurses and doctors entered the room they had to don disposable paper gowns and gloves. It wasn’t long before the trash can outside his room was filled to the brim with the bright yellow garments. Staring at the pile my mind wandered back to the 1960s when Scott Paper first introduced us to throw away garments with their Paper Caper promotion. That simple marketing plan went viral when over 500,000 of the simple shift dresses were purchased by homemakers by mailing $1.25 along with a box top or label to the company.
It was the hope of the future, the garment of the space age, the end of laundering, the solution to packing for vacation and other companies and designers were soon making the popular paper garments. Many were sold as promotional premiums. Hallmark marketed matching garments with bridge sets, napkins and tablecloths for the hostess. Exclusive boutiques popped up around the country selling designer labeled throw away garments, the most expensive being a wedding dress for $15! The most unusual was a bikini, advertised as being water proof for two or three wears—can you imagine?
The fabric was actually a cellulose paper reinforced with rayon or nylon, not exactly fragile, but not durable either. Brightly colored and not very comfortable, the original dresses came in red, yellow and black paisley or a black and white op art pattern. Later designers had a field day with the bold and brilliant patterns of the 60s. Some even came as an outline pattern so the new owner could color their own designs with crayons or markers. As I walked through the darkened halls of Dana Farber Cancer Institute one evening, making my way back to the basement parking garage, I couldn’t believe my eyes, there, displayed in a case on the wall, the mother of all paper dresses—the Souper Dress, donated to the hospital and placed here as part of an impressive art exhibit.
Considered by many to be the pinnacle of paper dresses, the Souper Dress capitalized on Andy Warhol’s pop art painting of Campbell Soup cans. Offered by Campbell soup as a premium in 1967 and 1968, you could get your own pop art paper dress by sending in the labels from two different cans of soup plus $1.00. Today the dress is valued at over $5,000!
In March of 1967 Time Magazine ran the headline, Fashion: Real Live Paper Dolls, stating that “Paper clothing, apparently, is here to stay.” Alas, it wasn’t to be. Here we are 45 years later still doing laundry! Several insurmountable obstacles led to the fashion’s demise. First, it wasn’t comfortable. Also, there was a growing trend toward saving the planet as the 70s approached and throw away paper clothing seemed wasteful. But most of all, the garments were simply extremely flammable, becoming more so as they were laundered and worn.
I had to smile--How ironic to see this amazing dress juxtaposed against the sea of yellow and blue paper garments being used in such a utilitarian way here in the hospital. But how wonderful to have the opportunity to see this iconic fashion statement up close and personal!
Written by Cindy Brown
Cinsababe’s on Ruby Lane