Disposable Suits and Paper Underpants

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On some level, it makes sense: Clothing made out of fabric is expensive. Clothing made out of paper is cheap and, after you're tired of wearing it, you can just throw is away. Genius, right?
At several points during the 20th century, fashion designers thought so too. In 1920, importers of German goods reportedly came to London, via Holland, to hawk their new line of paper suits to English clothiers. The "ready-made" suits, which could be cut to English styles, were to be sold for half-a-crown to 10 shillings a piece, depending on the cut, or 1000 for £120. The suits, according to this Times article, were "of the very best class of paper texture" and made it possible "for an English man to be "˜comfortably dressed' in a new suit once a week and the entire cost would be less, over a period of 12 months, than for one single West-end suit, cut and style thrown in."

The 60's Recycle the Idea

paper dress.jpgIt doesn't seem to have exactly taken off then, but that didn't stop paper suits from making a comeback in the 1960s. In the hopeful, optimistic "˜60s, paper was the clothing "textile" of the future. At a time when more and more goods were becoming "disposable" (plates, cups, cutlery, plastics in packaging, tissues, etc.), disposable clothing seemed like the next big thing.

And for a blessedly brief period, they were.

In Swinging London, ready-to-tear paper dresses were all the rage among ladies.

The little dresses, which were shift style dresses in bright patterns marketed as "instant fun from London," were absolutely prone to ripping, tearing, and all the problems you would expect from paper clothing, but that may have actually added to that "instant fun." (Check out the Victoria and Albert Museum's collection of paper dresses, here.)

Picture 122.pngThe dresses somehow embodied the Mod spirit: Andy Warhol recognized the pop art potential of the paper fashions, creating a limited run of paper dresses with his famous rendering of a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup. It wasn't just the Twiggies, the Nicos, and the Edies of the day who bought into the fad. Many of the dresses were promotional gifts from paper products companies, including from the Scott toilet paper company, which initially offered the dresses as a sort of promotional gag, but soon found itself inundated with requests for the dresses from women everywhere.

The success of the dresses had paper companies prophesizing a paper revolution: Don't pack for vacation again "“ just buy paper clothes when you get there and throw them away when you leave! Fashion changes so fast "“ always be fashionable with paper!

Paper Underpants

Paper clothing evolved from just dresses to include the depth and breadth of fashion, from trousers, skirts, and blouses to $20 wedding dresses and bikinis (treated with plastic). And of course, there was the underwear: In 1968, British Home Stores were selling French-made men's underpants for the bargain basement price of £1 for 24 pairs, while, according to the Times, Dorothy Perkins, a H&M-style high street clothing shop, offered packs of six paper knickers in three different colors for three shillings, 11 pennies.

Picture 91.pngBut sadly, as you've probably guessed from the fact that you're probably not currently clad in a three-piece paper suit, the paper revolution wasn't to be. It was rather doomed from the start: The strength and flexibility of paper could never really stand up to rigors of daily life and rain, well, that was a nightmare. Still, even though paper clothing hasn't become quite the force paper companies had hoped, the disposable clothing market is hanging on. In addition to disposable clothing for people in messy professions, like doctors and dentists, brands like OneDer Wear (their lovely logo is to the left) offer undies in several styles, including thongs made out of biodegradable cotton. Nowadays, though, disposable underwear isn't marketed to bright young things out on the scene so much as to lazy people and travelers.

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April 3, 2009 - 11:29am
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