The introduction of the Fourdrinier machine galvanized the production of paper. It seemed we could make as much and more than we might ever need. Apparently in the 1860s a company called Waters & Sons was building boats made of paper in Troy, New York. Troy made so many paper collars it was known as the Collar City. Why couldn’t paper be used for everything? The age of paper was declared in 1862 when a song of that title was published. The sheet music cover shows Howard Paul, the singer of this song, attired in suit of paper.

Sheet music cover, “The Age of Paper” (London, 1862). Music and lyrics by Henry Walker, lithography by the firm of Concanen and Lee. The English singer Howard Paul performed the number in music halls clad entirely in paper clothing, much like the dandy pictured here. Arthur Granger was a London stationer, but here his offerings are exaggerated to include hats, coats, wigs, and umbrellas—all made of paper. (Photo from the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, The Sheridan Libraries, The Johns Hopkins University.)

The website Disposable America has a six-part history of the disposable paper collar. The picture above is from Part III.

I am old enough to remember a world in which you could not buy a dress shirt with a collar attached. When I first had to wear a suit as as schoolboy the shirts we wore were separate from the collars. You had a little leather bag with a bunch of cuff links and collar studs inside, little button-like things made of ivory, or more likely plastic, which would attach the collar to the shirt via tiny button holes at the front and the back. Kids who have trouble tying a tie nowadays have no idea what it was like back then. You had to carefully position the tie inside the collar before attaching the front stud, because there was no turning the collar over after it was in situ. These things were starched at the laundry and would cut your head off if you wriggled about too much in them. I can scarcely imagine how much worse a steel collar (Yes: read the Disposable America story) must have been like. By my time paper and celluloid collars had gone the way of all flesh, and in my experience collars were made of cotton. White cotton of course, because in those days wearing a shirt of any color other than white would have been regarded as so sinful that no manufacturer would dare produce one.

Here’s the text of “The Age of Paper” song copied from where the music is also available:

Of “Golden Age” do poets tell,
 The “Age of Brass” they laud as well;
 While ev’ry age hath serv’d by times
 A peg on which to hang their rhymes.
 But as the world goes rolling on,
 Strange times indeed we’ve chanced upon,
 For Fashions progress never lags-
 And now we’re in the “Age of Rags.
  – For paper  now is all the rage
    And nothing else will suit the age.


 Each swell attired in mode extreme
 Of paper is a walking ream;
 His collar, necktie, shirt, and vest,
 Instead of starch’d are all hot press’d
 But greatest care he’s forced to own,
 Being held together by paste alone;
 And should he sneeze, or start, or spring
 Twould “weally be a dreadful thing”!
  – For paper  now is all the rage
    And nothing else will suit the age.


 The ladies meet our stricken gaze,
 All paper’d round like fresh bouquets;
 And, thus attir’d they roam the streets,
 Mere paper parcels fill’d with sweets.
 But on them should a rain drop fall,
 To grief they’d come, aye! each and all,
 For of their dresses once so splash,
 There’d naught remain but papier mash !
  – For paper  now is all the rage
    And nothing else will suit the age.


 The children soon we may suppose,
 Will run about in paper clothes;
 With sealing wax each tear we’ll bind,
 Then give them whacks of a different kind.
 To keep them clean no soap we’ll need,
 For India rubber will do instead,
 But pinafores ’tis greatly fear’d,
 Will at the corners get dog-ear’d!
  – For paper  now is all the rage
    And nothing else will suit the age.


 In every shop one now espies
 The “last new thing” in paper ties;
 The coats of “best blue wove” are made;
 But shirts, of course, are all “cream laid.”
 A paper hat should you desire,
 Or paper socks, say half a quire,
 Or “peg-tops” of the last design-
 You’ll get them all for three and nine!
  – For paper  now is all the rage
    And nothing else will suit the age.


 T’is hard to say where this will stop;
 Each tailor soon must close his shop;
 And ev’ry laundress, do not doubt,
 Ere long will fairly be washed out:
 For we shall see ‘midst other rigs
 Our maids deck’d out in paper wigs,
 Our ships unfurling paper sails,
 And tomcats sporting paper tails,
  – Before the world has lost its rage
    To celebrate the PAPER AGE.

Well, despite the song’s claims, the only garments ever made extensively from paper were those collars, some cuffs, and dickeys, shirt fronts. The aim in that highly scented world which we used to inhabit was to wear your shirt for at least a week, fooling everyone into believing it was spanking clean by means of the visible parts, the paper replaceables. I remember when deodorants first became available for men: senior opinion was that they represented some dastardly underhand plot to sap the manliness of the nation which had never had any problem with BO — which acronym came into common usage at that time (though the OED dates the earliest use to 1933). I suspect it took the widespread adoption of the washing machine to kill off the detachable collar. In my part of the world this didn’t happen till I was an adult, and was preceded by a short, quasi-decadent phase when colored shirt bodies accompanied by white detachable collars could be obtained.

Every now and then someone tries to make paper dresses fashionable, but it never seems to catch on. Even in the days when paper was made largely from cotton fiber, its use for clothing was pretty much restricted to those visible shirt bits. Rayon is made from cellulose which does come from wood, but this at best makes it a distant cousin of paper clothing. I do now have some socks made of bamboo, but again I don’t really see how that can be made paper-like. However I guess those paper gowns they make you wear at the doctor’s do have to count as garments.