Stylestalker - Paper Dresses, Ready to Tear


Ready to tear

-  By Camille Gower

“You’d look good in a paper bag!”

Is that a compliment? Or a huge insult?

I guess it depends on the intended location of the paper bag... On the head: ouch! Worn as a
garment: a nod to your sartorial potential.

In 1966, a bright spark at the Scott Paper Company decided to test the paper-bag-to-garment theory.
The fashion industry was set on fire with the marketing of a dress made of paper, which could be
purchased for $1.25 along with any of the company’s new range of “Colour Explosion” paper goods,
which included such handy day-to-day items as toilet paper and napkins.

As an incentive to invest in some fancy new picnic-ware, the novelty shift dress came in a red paisley
pattern or a black and white psychedelic op art print and was made of paper-napkin stock, reinforced
with rayon webbing.

Although napkins and toilet paper are excellent, for some reason the paper dress became the
highlight of the “Colour Explosion” campaign and Scott Paper were inundated with orders for the
futuristic dress.

Paper Wares, Hallmark, Universal Fashions and Mars Manufacturing soon leapt onto the paper
fashion bandwagon, producing everything from paper vests to aprons and evening gowns between
1966 and 1968.

Marketed as affordable and disposable, in an era where “space age” commodities were embraced
with open arms, the “ready-to-tear” fashions were apparently as dubiously comfortable as being
wrapped in an oversized dried-out Handee wipe.

In addition to the obvious uses for the paper dress (DIY crayon designs and the ability to match one’s
outfit to the table-ware – yes, Hallmark actually marketed this option!) paper dresses were used as
walking billboards for presidential campaigns and as mobile posters for artists of the time, including
Bob Dylan.
In the March 17, 1967 edition of Time Magazine, the writer announced: “Paper clothing, apparently, is
here to stay.”

So what happened? You might ask... Why are we not at this very moment garbed in acres of paper,
yearning over the new “haute papier”?

Well, perhaps not surprisingly, paper clothes were highly flammable. More than one fashion-forward
female had to suffer the indignity of third-degree burns when her dress went spontaneously up in
flames after a brush with a lit cigarette.

In addition to the possible “pyro-theatricality” of paper clothes, the movement towards sustainability
and environmentally-friendly products in the 1970s saw the paper dress die out as impractical and

As a mod-con, the paper dress had a short life, but the folks at Chadstone Shopping Centre recently
brought the world of paper fashion to a pop-up exhibition housing just over 20 dresses. On display
were the original “Paper Caper” dresses produced by Scott Paper, along with other examples from

the late 60s, as well as more recent homage pieces by artists such as Hussein Chalayan, Sarah
Caplan and Travis Hutchison. The Paper Dresses exhibition ran from May 16 to June 5 in Melbourne,
and this intrepid stalker dashed across to Chadstone to get the visual goods for all, before it was too