It’s rare for political campaigns to be notable for clothing beyond the customary baseball-style cap and T-shirt. It’s unheard-of for them to be associated with eccentric fashion trends. But in 1968 there was a notable exception. And it did not originate in the semi-fictitious run of Pat Paulsen or Dick Gregory’s quixotic bid for the White House, but in the campaign of Richard Nixon for the presidency.
Proof of this is at eBay, where a paper dress is being offered until tomorrow afternoon, consisting of the letters NIXON in stencil type red lettering, and blue stars, against a white background.
When looking at the image it’s useful to keep the history of paper clothing in mind. The trend had its origins in 1966 when the Scott Paper Company, to stir interest in its more conventional offerings like toilet paper and napkins, manufactured dresses out of celluose and offered them by mail-order through magazine ads. By clipping a coupon from the ad and sending it along with a buck and a quarter, anyone interested would receive a “Paper Caper” garment in either a red bandanna or a black-and-white op-art pattern.
The promotion, a little unexpectedly, caught on, and then exploded into innumerable directions. It’s worth remembering that this was the era when there was a wild fashion fad almost every week, ranging from the topless bikini to the rather more frequently seen tab-collar shirts of 1966. And there were always wild outfits to be seen at the movies and on TV. Indeed, shortly after the Scott company began distributing its paper garments, Linda Gaye Scott, a member of the family who had founded it, showed up on the Batman series in a lurid deep-purple ensemble, playing “the Moth” opposite the immortal Frank Gorshin as the Riddler.
The idea of buying a garment for a minimal price, and then throwing it away after two or three wearings, proved to have a startling hold on the popular consciousness – for a while. As 1967 began, companies across America started marketing everything in paper from underwear to bridal gowns – yes, you read that correctly. Children’s clothing proved popular in households tired of the notion of hand-me-downs. Even raincoats and bikinis were offered. Leading department stores sold dresses for $8 and high-end retailers set up entire boutiques for paper garb. For a while it looked washing-machine and dryer manufacturers, not to mention laundries and dry-cleaners, might be heading for trouble.
Then, almost as suddenly as it arrived, the celluose craze ended. Of course, in those days when smoking was prevalent, there was nervousness about the flammability of these garments. And then again, there was the trouble of loading up garbage cans with discarded clothes. (Had recycling as we know it existed at the time the story might have been different.) As a result, paper clothing vanished from stores. Today’s disposable hospital smocks and gowns are pretty much all that remains of that era. And so the Nixon dress proved to be one of the last gasps of the trend.
At the moment, bidding for the garment has reached only $38.50, so this is your chance to own a quite scarce RN-related collectible for a price comparable to something as frequently seen as a “Nixon Now” button. But remember – the dress is nearly a half-century old. Hard to say it wouldn’t crumble if you tried to wear it.