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 Â£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
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.)
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 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 Â£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.