The above dress was a gift from Vintage Traveler reader and kindred spirit, Mod Betty who writes and maintains the site Retro Roadmap. Betty is one of those special individuals who thrifts not only for herself, but she also keeps in mind the interests of others while shopping. Trust me, we all need a lot of Betties in our lives.
And not only did Betty send me the dress, she also did a little web research which completely explained the story behind this particular dress.
To me, a child of the 1960s, the phrase “American Girl” pretty much means one thing (excepting that Tom Petty song, of course) – American Girl magazine. American Girl was the official magazine of the American Girl Scouts, and when I first noted the tag, I pretty much assumed that this must have been offered through the magazine. But it seemed odd that there was no reference to the Girl Scouts, and also, the logo was wrong.
Luckily for me, Mod Betty had included a link to a newspaper article, dated July 22, 1967. It was an AP feature by reported Sally Ryan, titled “Paper Clothing Business Climbing into Boom area.” In it was the following:
American Girl Temporary Service, Inc, which employes about 20,00 women a year, turned to paper dresses to help recruit more.
To every woman who passes its tests, the temporary help firm handed out a paper dress labeled inside – “American Girls are the paper dolls that move the paper of American business.”
“We just reordered 200 dozen and will probably double the order again,” said Sabatino A. Russo, Jr, the president. “The dresses have been a great success. They probably increased our applications 15 to 17 percent.”
So much for assuming!
Next, I went to Ready to Tear: Paper Fashions of the 60s, by Jonathan Walford. There, I was happy to note these pages:
It’s the very same print, but with a different label. These dresses were released in October 1966 under the Moda Mia label, which was a division of cosmetics firm Rayette-Faberge. They were made of the same material used in Handi-Wipes cleaning cloths, a rayon with tiny mesh-like holes. You can see the holes in my label shot. According to Walford, this was due to the fact that the paper being used to make the disposable dresses was becoming quite scarce, and some companies were looking into other disposable fibers.
I find the whole idea of disposable clothing fascinating, especially in light of all the recent talk about how disposable fast fashion has become. We’d like to think that society has grown past wearing an item 3 or 4 times and then disposing of it, but clearly, we have not.
To learn more about the paper fashion fad of the 60s, you must get Walford’s book, available through etsy, or, if you are in Canada, Amazon. It is also for sale at the Phoenix Art Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.