Does anyone remember paper dresses? I’m not referring to the cut out dresses used for paper dolls, I mean PAPER DISPOSABLE DRESSES. In 1966 some brilliant inventor and creative designer in the toilet paper industry decided to market the first disposable paper dress. Who were these geniuses anyway?
I was 12 when I found the advertisement on a Scott paper product. I needed $1.25 in order to make my purchase which was not all that easy for a 12 year old in 1966. $1.25 bought a lot of stuff back then such as, ten large chocolate bars, a deluxe burger with fries and milkshake, two six packs of pepsi, two and a half dozen eggs, or 4 pair of fishnet stockings. I could go on and on but I’m sure you get the idea. I did everything from ironing my brothers jeans for a dime, to washing and drying dishes when it wasn’t my turn, vacuuming the entire house and folding laundry.
I was completely convinced the paper dress was going to make me the most popular girl in the school. I mean, even the Beatles wore paper suits for a 1966 appearance in Los Angeles. After having finally saved enough to add up to $1.25 plus postage, I decided on the black and white shift style, filled in the order form and sent it off.
There were many advantages to having a paper dress. I could alter the length with a pair of scissors, easily turning it into a mini dress, I could add color to it with markers, I could strut around my girlfriends pretending to be the likes of Twiggy (I was skinny back then), and best of all, just toss it when I was done with it. I imagined myself as the first 12 year old to don the paper dress and I kept thinking; never mind popular, I may even become famous!
Of course, there were also many downsides to the paper dress. The fact that they were made of paper meant they creased easily, they were itchy on the skin, so not very comfortable, even if you loved your dress it was meant to be disposed of, and of course the more obvious, you had to be careful where you wore it. For example, nowhere near a heat source. In 1966 it seemed everyone over 16 walked around with a cigarette in their hand. I don’t know what these paper caper creators were thinking. No matter to me as I had completely blocked all of these ridiculous, inconsequential details from my 12 year old trend setting head. I was going to be the coolest and most popular girl ever. Move over Twiggy!
I had to wait something like six weeks for delivery, which in my recollection seemed like it was coming by camel or tortoise. In those six weeks the advertising buzz of the disposable paper dress, better known as “The Paper Caper”, had grown to a frenzy.
The moment finally arrived. I heard the doorbell and by the time I got there my mother was holding a small package in one hand and closing the door with the other. It was like I was instantly transformed into a football player going in for the tackle. I planned my course, began to dip and dodge past the walls, the corners, leaped over the cat and grabbed the package, dashing away before my mother even knew what was happening.
I ran upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom. My mother by this time was slightly perturbed and extremely curious. She needed to know what was going on so started rapping on the bathroom door and calling out “What’s going on in there? What is in that package?” Totally ignoring her I ripped open the package and gently began unfolding the square that looked a lot like newsprint. Once I got it all unfolded, which was like unfolding a city map, I realized, NOOOOO, it’s wrinkled! So, being the best domestic little 12 year old ever, and having super ironing skills, I decided I’d fix this fast. By this time my mother had given up pounding on the door and wandered off to the living room to wait for my appearance and expecting a complete report of what was in this surprise package. She knew I had to show my face at some time. Such a patient woman was she.
I quietly scurried past her and down the stairs to the laundry room, plugged in the iron and waited for which seemed like eternity. This was the 60s so it took a while for the iron to heat up. I delicately laid out the dress ready to get started and literally a split second before the ‘scorching hot iron’ hit the ‘paper dress’, my mother’s voice bellowed out behind me; “What in Murphy’s name are you up to?!!” This wasn’t my first experience with her ‘Murphy’ expression that lives on today.
After I’d recovered from the initial shock of her voice vibrating through my body, I managed to put the iron safely down and showed her my paper dress. Fortunately for me, she was somewhat impressed and perhaps even a little envious that she hadn’t come up with the idea herself but best of all she knew just what to do. She got a tea towel, placed it over the dress and began to iron the wrinkles out. As she was doing so she lectured me on the whole fire hazard thing “You could have started a fire! You could have hurt yourself! Why didn’t you ask me????” All I kept thinking was: I almost destroyed my paper dress!
I finally got to wear my paper dress the very next day. Oh ya. I was a trend setter all right, I was stylin, and I was CRAZY! My mother tried to convince me to wear it after school and invite a couple of girlfriends over to show them. But noooooo, I had to wear it to school in front of everyone, including seventh grade BOYS, hormones raging, need I say more? How did I feel? Upon reflection, I felt a lot like what I imagine the Paper Bag Princess felt like, walking around in a brown paper bag trying to impress Ronald the stuck up Prince. (Please consider this is coming from a retired teacher-librarian)
Children’s book by Robert Munsch
I wore that dress to school and became the not so nice ‘talk’ of the 7th grade for weeks, long after the disposable dress had been disposed of. Actually, by that time I was feeling a little disposed myself. I had many invites to go to bonfires, smoking pits and a few more unspeakable things. Of course wearing the paper dress was a requirement of the invitees. The fact was, that dress itched me so bad I couldn’t wait to get it off and toss it. Although the dress only lasted a day, the effects of wearing it to school lived on for some time after. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen anymore but every time a cashier would ask: “paper or plastic?” a tremor would vibrate through my very core.
(If paper wasn’t bad enough, could you imagine, plastic dresses?)
That they were disposable helped to make them such a big hit in the first place, if even for a short while. Check it out. Seriously, they actually manufactured and sold stylish paper dresses (and garments) AND people bought them. Crazy little 12 year old Princesses like me that is, and the Beatles.
If you want more on the history of the ‘Paper Caper’ check out the following website:
The Scott Paper Company, with factories in Marinette and Oconto Falls, Wisconsin, created the catalyst for the phenomenon in the spring of 1966 when it introduced two new paper dresses as premiums to promote its new line of “Color Explosion” paper products. The company produced its two dresses with “gift wrap” designs, one a black and white pop art pattern, the other an orange-red, yellow, and black Paisley design.