Paper, Please!

Scrolling through Pinterest last weekend, I came across this groovy 1960s photo of Argentine actress Marcela Lopez Rey rocking a Rhett Butler dress. Clark Gable was the sexiest man to ever live and being a classic movie buff, I had to know which designer was responsible for such a delicious piece.

The elusive Rhett Butler dress on actress Marcela Lopez Rey.

The elusive Rhett Butler dress on actress Marcela Lopez Rey.

With the help of senior designer Larissa I discovered Ms. Rey was sporting a paper dress. Paper dresses were developed in the 1960s and part of pop culture for a hot second, between 1966-1967. Fascinated by retro fast-fashion, I embarked on a journey to my alma mater the Fashion Institute of Technology to research.

English designer Harry Gordon’s Poster Dress line.

English designer Harry Gordon’s Poster Dress line.

In step with the Pop sensibility of the 1960s, paper dresses reflected the attitude of their time—“Fashion could be simple, quick, democratic and disposable.”1 The fad was initiated by a Scott Paper Company promotional mail order offer of one dress for $1.

The original Scott Paper Company paper dress offer.

The original Scott Paper Company paper dress offer.

Paper dresses were made of “unpaper,” the Scott Company called Dura Weve, paper-napkin stock reinforced with rayon. The affordable, boldly printed, convenient garments instantly became popular. Quick production and printing made the paper dress an obvious canvas for pop art, advertising, and even presidential campaign posters.

 Campbell’s Soup used Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans for the Souper Dress.

Campbell’s Soup used Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans for the Souper Dress.

A group of Beatles fans walking down the street promoting their favorite band.

A group of Beatles fans walking down the street promoting their favorite band.

Wearable campaign posters for Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, opposing U.S. presidential candidates in 1968.

Wearable campaign posters for Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, opposing U.S. presidential candidates in 1968. Photograph ©Museum at FIT

To my disappointment, and despite scores of ladies who happily sported their eye-catching dresses, the trend did not last. According to “high fashion” disposable garment designer Elisa Daggs, “Materials weren’t coming through fast enough when the demand was hot. Most disposable fabrics were committed for industrial use and we fashion people had to take what we could get.”2 Daggs believed the primary use of disposable clothing was to give a woman the chance to try new fashion without a large investment.

Strapless paper party dress created by Elisa Daggs, high fashion disposable garment designer, sold for $6 and needed a paper petticoat to pouf it out.

Strapless paper party dress created by Elisa Daggs, high fashion disposable garment designer, sold for $6 and needed a paper petticoat to pouf it out.

I agree with Ms. Daggs. Today, a saucy Rhett Butler dress would cost a fortune and how many times are you likely to wear it? With modern technological advancements of recyclable fabrications, a paper garment comeback could solve the cost and time factors preventing women from purchasing high fashion fads…in my opinion.

Michele, Assistant Designer

1. Paper Clothes: 1966-1991 Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, 1991
2. Taylor, Angela. “Paper Dress? It’s Still Around, Quietly” The New York Times June 24, 1969, 34.

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About Hanky Panky

Over 30 years ago, in 1977, designer Gale Epstein created a hand-made lingerie set for her friend, Lida Orzeck, crafted out of embroidered handkerchiefs. The original designs were the inspiration for the company name, Hanky Panky. Blending traditional with modern glam looks, Hanky Panky is a fashion favorite of countless celebrities.
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