Woman’s paper dress, labeled Elisa Daggs (American, 1966)

Woman’s paper dress, labeled Elisa Daggs (American, 1966). Front view, non-woven fabric. Label reads: “A paper fashion by Elisa Daggs.” Gift of Yvonne Gunderson (2003.772). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Welcome back to our 1960s paper dress odyssey! Today’s post takes a look at the impressive range of what constituted paper fashion during an explosive, but short-lived trend. The example shown above, created by high-end designer Elisa Daggs, takes a decided detour from the sleeveless A-line shift dresses featured in my earlier posts—namely, our  Souper Dress (about 1967) and our Hollywood Dress (1968). The flat, open canvas of their basic, unadorned construction was exploited, quite literally, as a wearable poster—giving rise to a slew of the latest paper dresses emblazoned with graphic images of op art, pop art, celebrities, political candidates, and other popular images that blurred boundaries between “high” art and “low” culture.

Woman’s paper “Souper Dress” (American, about 1967). Distributed by Campbell Soup Company (American, founded 1960s). Cellulose and cotton non-woven fabric, printed. Lucy A. Morse Fund in memory of Kate Morse (2003.135). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Woman’s “Yellow Pages” paper dress (American, about 1966). Cellulose and cotton non-woven fabric, printed; cotton plain weave (bias tape) trim. Label reads: “Waste Basket Boutique by Mars of Asheville, N.C.” Textile Income Purchase Fund (2003.136). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

 

The MFA’s Yellow Pages Dress (about 1966, below left) with a tie collar embellishment extending beyond the flat paper plane, and bearing an understated collage pattern of print advertisements, sits somewhere between the zeitgeist-inspired sensibilities of 1960s poster fashion, and alternative manifestations of disposable ready-to-wear for women, as seen in Elisa Daggs’ conventional rendering of a woman’s dress (below right) with ruffled collar, loose matching sleeves, and a belted waist.

Woman’s “Yellow Pages” paper dress (American, about 1966). Cellulose and cotton non-woven fabric, printed; cotton plain weave (bias tape) trim. Textile Income Purchase Fund (2003.136). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Woman’s paper dress, labeled Elisa Daggs (American, 1966). Back view, non-woven fabric. Label reads: “A paper fashion by Elisa Daggs.” Gift of Yvonne Gunderson (2003.772). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the MFA’s Textile and Fashion Art research library, I located a book by fashion curator and collector Jonathan Walford, Ready to Tear: Paper Fashions of the 1960s. Walford is said to have acquired an example of nearly every paper dress ever manufactured. Included in his book are examples of dresses that Elisa Daggs designed for the aviation industry. BOAC and Trans World Airlines introduced paper uniforms for their stewardesses in 1967. For TWA, Daggs designed four distinctive uniform styles for travel to Italy, France, Hawaii, and on New York to Los Angeles Ambassador service. For first class transatlantic flights to Paris, Daggs created a gold foil uniform with a standing ruffled collar and belt. She also designed a purple and lime-green sari for Air India as a promotional campaign, available for the price of $5.00 by mail order from Air India’s public relations department in New York.

Paper fashion by Elisa Daggs commissioned by TWA and Air India. Left: Gold foil stewardess dress for first-class service on transatlantic TWA flights to Paris, 1967. Image courtesy Augusta Auctions. Right: Paper sari for Air India, 1967. Image courtesy Jonathan Walford and the Fashion History Museum, Cambridge, Ontario. Click image for web source.

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Object a Week is a revolving showcase of the MFA’s textile collections. A featured object may be indicative of the author’s study focus at a given moment in time and/or related to topics of research, activity, or recent acquisitions in the Museum’s Textile and Fashion Arts department

Woman’s “Hollywood” paper dress (American, 1968)

Front view: Woman’s “Hollywood” paper dress (American, 1968). Printed cellulose and cotton non-woven fabric. The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection, by exchange (2003.136). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Imagine a dress made from paper. It could be a simple A-line style, or as elaborate as a wedding dress. It can easily be altered with a pair of scissors. It has a low price tag. But perhaps its most appealing quality is its disposable nature as “throwaway” fashion. The paper dress has arrived! A promotional gimmick gone viral, the disposable dress was a fleeting fashion trend that managed to completely escape my awareness as a child growing up in the early 1960s, making my recent introduction to the handful of disposable paper dresses in our collection so captivating! The very idea of disposable fashion may seem odd today, but viewed in the context of its time—an era that favored ephemerality over durability, carefree conveniences, consumerism and a thirst for the next new trend—its phenomenal rise in popularity is not all that surprising.

Back view: Woman’s “Hollywood” paper dress (American, 1968). Printed cellulose and cotton non-woven fabric. The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection, by exchange (2003.136). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Redeemable coupon for the “Paper Caper” dress by Scott Paper Company, available in a black & white optical or red paisley print. Mademoiselle, 1966

Related posts in which I feature the MFA’s Souper Dress (Campbell Soup Company) and the Yellow Pages Dress (Mars of Asheville, NC) introduce readers to the birth of the “Paper Caper” dress, a promotional sideline by Scott Paper Company used to advance its latest paper-based technologies. There were two basic A-line styles to choose from, redeemable by sending in a coupon with $1.00 and $.25 for postage and handling. After unprecedented sales (500,000) in a matter of months, Scott Paper discontinued its production of the paper dress to focus on its main product lines: paper towels, napkins, toilet paper, and the like.

Other companies and designers seized this moment to jump on the “Paper Caper” bandwagon, producing their own variations to compete in a demanding market for disposable fashion and contributing to its explosive popularity. Universal Studios embraced the ready-made canvas of this hot item to promote its most popular stars, including Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, Julie Andrews, Paul Newman, Henry Fonda, Kirk Douglas, and others, rendered in the Warhol-like portrait aesthetic emblematic of Pop Art and the blurring of boundaries between “high” art and “low” culture.

MFA’s “Hollywood” dress on exhibit in the contemporary wing in 2012 (front view). Click image for web source.
“Hollywood” dress, back view. Click image for web source.

Click for description and collection data on mfa.org


Object a Week is a revolving showcase of the MFA’s textile collections. A featured object may be indicative of the author’s study focus at a given moment in time and/or related to topics of research, activity, or recent acquisitions in the Museum’s Textile and Fashion Arts department

Woman’s “Yellow Pages” paper dress (American, about 1966)

Woman’s “Yellow Pages” paper dress (American, about 1966). Cellulose and cotton non-woven fabric, printed; cotton plain weave (bias tape) trim. Label reads: “Waste Basket Boutique by Mars of Asheville, N.C.” Textile Income Purchase Fund (2003.136). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The disposable paper dress was an explosive, but fleeting fashion trend in the 1960s at a time when themes of advertising, mass-production, consumerism, and attitude shifts that favored ephemerality over durability were defining an ever-changing era. American pop art, embodied by the works of contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and other artists, made a splash on the ready-made canvas of the paper dress. The MFA’s paper “Souper Dress,” distributed by Campbell Soup Company, is a well-known example of fashion appropriating pop art—in this case, inspired by Warhol’s iconic “Campbell’s Soup Cans” paintings.

The“Yellow Pages” paper dress shown above, decorated with an all-over printed pastiche of Yellow Pages advertisements and sporting a tie collar—together with the MFA’s Souper Dress“—was part of a dual fashion acquisition in 2003, among the earliest of the MFA’s purchases by way of internet auction.

(Left): Advertisement for the “Yellow Pages” paper dress. (Upper right): Paper dress packaging. (Lower right): “Yellow Pages” dress on a vintage clothing rack. Click image for web source.

What’s black and yellow and read all over? The Yellow Pages dress! It’s wild, wacky and wonderful. A flashy paper put-on that’s just plain fun to wear. We’ll send your Yellow Pages Dress to you just about long enough to cover your knees—then with a pair of scissors you can cut it to any length you like.”

~ Teaser for the “Yellow Pages” paper dress advertisement

The first “throwaway” paper dresses originated with Scott Paper Company in 1966 as a promotional gimmick to advance its line of paper products (napkins, paper towels, paper plates, and more) and its development of new, improved paper-based technology. For the cost of $1.00 + 25 cents for shipping and handling, along with a coupon clipping, thousands of customers sent in their orders. Despite the phenomenal sales metrics (500,000 dresses sold within eight  months) Scott Paper had no intentions to diversify along the lines of fashion. This provided an opportune moment for other companies and designers to join the frenzy and capitalize on the high demand for this popular novelty item.

“Yellow Pages” paper dress label, “Waste Basket Boutique” by Mars of Asheville, N.C.

One such company was Mars of Asheville, NC, a hosiery manufacturer that went on to produce paper for fashion, becoming a giant in the disposable fashion industry. Mars produced the “Yellow Pages” dress in the MFA’s collection. The company’s tagline, “The Pioneer in Disposable Fashion,” along with its “Waste Basket Boutique” line, was a tangible expression of the pervasive throwaway culture of the 1960s—a way of engaging with the new “modern age” that valued unencumbered convenience and visions of the future.

Click for description and collection data on mfa.org


Object a Week is a revolving showcase of the MFA’s textile collections. A featured object may be indicative of the author’s study focus at a given moment in time and/or related to topics of research, activity, or recent acquisitions in the Museum’s Textile and Fashion Arts department

Woman’s Paper “Souper Dress” (American, about 1967)

Woman’s paper “Souper Dress” (American, about 1967). Distributed by Campbell Soup Company (American, founded 1960s). Cellulose and cotton non-woven fabric, printed. Lucy A. Morse Fund in memory of Kate Morse (2003.135). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

During the 1960s—a time of societal flux and distinguished by many short-lived fashion trends and fads—this dress, inspired by Andy Warhol’s iconic work Campbell’s Soup Cans, was mass produced as part of a fashion phenomenon gone viral: the disposable dress.

Magazine advertisement for the “Souper Dress,” SEVENTEEN, June 1968

It all started with a marketing promotion by Scott Paper, an American company that produced toilet tissue, baby wipes, napkins, paper towels and other products. Scott marketed two styles of sleeveless shift dresses made with a new non-woven cellulose based material called Dura-Weve. For the cost of $1.00 + 25 cents for shipping and handling, along with a coupon clipping, anyone could receive a paper dress in the mail. Within eight months, Scott sold 500,000 dresses and soon other companies and designers jumped on the “throwaway” fashion train.

Campbell’s “Souper Dress” package enclosure

 

The March 17, 1967 issue of TIME Magazine printed Fashion: Real Live Paper Dolls with a running list of designers and manufacturers responding to the high demand for paper fashion with their own expressive lines. Many styles were made to encourage creative alterations and embellishments, easily achieved with a pair of scissors and glue. At an extremely reasonable price, anywhere from $1.00 for a simple A-line dress, to $15.00 for a bridal gown, disposable paper fashion was all the rage. By 1968, changes in fashion and an increasing awareness of environmental impact led to the obsolescence of yet another fashion trend.

Click for description and collection data on mfa.org


Object a Week is a revolving showcase of the MFA’s textile collections. A featured object may be indicative of the author’s study focus at a given moment in time and/or related to topics of research, activity, or recent acquisitions in the Museum’s Textile and Fashion Arts department

Quilt: Pot of Flowers with Wild Geese (American, 1950s)

Quilt: Pot of Flowers with Wild Geese (American Early 1950s). Cotton plain weave, printed; appliquéd and quilted. By Florence Cowden Peto (American, 1881 – 1970, Tenafly, NJ). Gift of the Peto family (2017.3913). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Recent additions to our outstanding collection of quilts are nine very fine examples created during the 1950s by Florence Cowden Peto, gifted to the MFA by her family, and considered to be the best of the few quilts that she made.

“Florrie” Peto’s quilts are emblematic of the Colonial Revival movement, which had its roots in the late 19th century—a time when Americans waxed nostalgic for the simpler times of pre-industrialized colonial America. Peto maintained a personal interest in textile research, and used historic fabrics in her quilts, such as printed chintz. She made her first quilt in 1926 at age 45,  and continued to create into her 70s. Notwithstanding her creativity, her quilt making practice went hand-in-hand with her scholarship about historic quilts and her active engagement as a designer, teacher, author, historian and lecturer.

The “wild geese” that Peto appliquéd on the quilt shown above is a classic pattern inspired by the seasonal migrations of geese, one that lent itself to numerous variations, as evidenced in this pieced Civil War era quilt.

Click for description and collection data on mfa.org


Object a Week is a revolving showcase of the MFA’s textile collections. A featured object may be indicative of the author’s study focus at a given moment in time and/or related to topics of research, activity, or recent acquisitions in the Museum’s Textile and Fashion Arts department

Child’s dress (boy’s or girl’s dress, American, about 1895)

Child’s dress (boy’s or girl’s dress), American, about 1825. Printed cotton plain weave, embroidered with cotton; mother of pearl buttons. Gift of Miss Frances Fowler and Professor Harold North Fowler (51.1978). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The pink child’s dress shown above was among a larger selection of children’s clothing brought out of storage by Assistant Curator Jennifer Swope, who recently hosted a study visit by Carey Hanson, a costume designer hailing from Oxford, Mississippi. The dress, in pristine condition, is an exquisite example of children’s fashion from the first quarter of the 19th century. I learned with great interest that during this time, dresses were worn by both male and female children. Bifurcated garments such as breeches were reserved for men and older boys; whereas female children and younger boys were dressed in skirted garments, blurring distinctions between gender.

Carey Hanson, a costume designer and university professor, takes careful measurements of a 19th century child’s dress in the MFA’s collection. Hanson’s goal is to achieve historic accuracy in her constructions.
Hanson pauses after shooting images to supplement her measurements and drawings. The David & Roberta Logie Textile and Fashion Arts department is available as a study center for specialists interested in textiles and dress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hanson, who heads the Design and Production program at University of Mississippi, came to the MFA to view a selection of 18th and 19th century children’s clothing over a period of three days—her first stop as part of a whirlwind tour of several New England-based collections. Hanson’s goal is to construct forms with faithful attention to historic accuracy. Her first-hand experience as a visiting researcher at the MFA is emblematic of how the department of Textile and Fashion Arts puts collections into action:

Being able to study such lovely historic garments in the collection was truly inspiring for my work as a costume designer and as a costume history professor. In the busy world of designing and producing costumes for theatrical events it is such an extraordinary experience to have the opportunity to examine beautifully crafted period clothing that has been so wonderfully conserved.”

Click for description and collection data on mfa.org


Object a Week is a revolving showcase of MFA textile collections. A featured object may be indicative of the author’s study focus at a given moment in time and/or related to topics of research, activity, or recent acquisitions in the Museum’s Textile and Fashion Arts department