Nobody Better Lay a Finger on My Butterfinger Paper Dress

They say “fashion is cyclical”—trends from each decade have re-emerged one way or another on the major runways around the world. The 1960s, in particular, featured a number of diverse trends. It was a decade that broke many rules and traditions, mirroring social movements during the time. In the middle of the decade, the modish (and not terribly functional) culottes, bikinis, go-go boots, and PVC clothes were all the rage. And what about those “Paper Capers”? One such rare, never-been-out-of-the-box Butterfinger paper dress from 1966 was recently unfolded at The Conservation Center, and our textiles conservator collaborated with our custom framer to properly showcase this très chic item from the Swinging Sixties.

The craze for paper dresses began in March of 1966 when the Scott Paper Company began printing coupons on packages of paper towels, toilet paper, and napkins. Customers who mailed the coupon and a dollar were sent sleeveless shift dresses. Within six months, Scott Paper had sold over 500,000 dresses—causing a sensation in contemporary fashion. By 1967 paper clothing was sold in major department stores around the country.  “Paper Capers,” as they were marketed, are today remembered as the 1960s consumerist zeitgeist of the Pop-Art age: a whimsical and flashy piece of clothing reflecting the decade’s focus on mass-production, mass media, and mass culture. However, paper clothing was often ill fitting and uncomfortable and the novelty didn’t last long. By 1968 paper clothing had all but disappeared from the market.   

Curtiss Candy Company was the manufacturer of Baby Ruth and Butterfinger. The factory was built in Franklin Park, Illinois, in the 1960s. Like Scott Paper and many other companies, Curtiss participated in the paper dress fad as part of its marketing campaign. A Chicago-based collector acquired this extremely rare Butterfinger dress as well as a copy of the original order form from Curtiss. As the dress was folded, severe creases were imparted into the paper that distorted the overall look of the piece.

The Center’s textiles conservator Iola Gardner carefully vacuumed the piece through a protective screen to clean off any dust and dirt that may have attached itself to the surface. The dress was then flattened to reduce creasing. To properly display the dress, Iola then hand-stitched it to a custom-fabricated linen mount over a stretcher. Toby Joyce, The Center’s Senior Conservation Framing Conservator, then framed the piece using the client’s selected frame and UV Plexiglas to protect against UV light rays. A photograph was taken of the verso of the dress and mounted to the backing board as was the original order form to provide the viewer with a full-view and understanding of the conserved piece.

A popular 1967 sales pitch for these “Paper Capers” touted “Won’t last forever…who cares? Wear it for kicks—then give it to the air.” Fortunately, with the expert care given by The Conservation Center, this Butterfinger paper dress will last a very long time.