Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2017 - 41
Fads came and went fast in the
1960s. The nationwide explosion
of paper fashion was centered at
one manufacturing plant in Asheville, North Carolina. The owners,
who still live in Asheville, were
temporarily and completely overwhelmed, and became nationally famous during their own "15
by Marla Hardee Milling
The high point of the brief 1960s fad of
paper dresses may have been the
week after an October, 1968 edition
of Parade magazine, which carried
a full-page ad featuring a model
wearing a paper dress and brightyellow tights.
The headline read, "Wear the Yellow Pages Out for $1." The ad copy
carried out the tease: What's black
and yellow and read all over? The Yellow Pages Dress! It's wacky, wild, wonderful. A flashy paper put-on that's just
plain fun to wear. We'll send your Yellow Pages Dress to you just about long
enough to cover your knees-then with
a pair of scissors you can cut it to any
length you like.
Customers cut out the coupon,
filled in their address and then
mailed it with their dollar (postage
included) to a P.O. box in Asheville,
Two days after the ad ran, Mars
Hosiery of Asheville received about
"The next day, we received
25,000," says Bob Bayer, co-owner of
the company with his wife Audrey
("Audie"). "The next day, 50,000. We
were overwhelmed with [just] two
They hired a local firm-Daniel's Graphics-to provide fulfillment services.
With the sudden, overwhelming
demand for paper dresses came sudden, unexpected fame. The Bayers
Mars Hosiery of Asheville became an "overnight success" with the advent of
paper fashion in the 1960s.
appeared on the TV shows "To Tell
the Truth" and "What's My Line?"
and saw their company and products
featured on "CBS Evening News," on
the front page of the Wall Street Journal and in many other publications,
including the London Times, The New
York Times, Business Week and Forbes.
They were also amazed at a spread
that Vogue magazine created featuring their products.
"They started out with a full-page
photo showing a model wearing one
of our paper jumpsuits," says Audie.
"When you opened it up, there
were three or four pages about the
company and the dresses." Bob adds,
"For Audie, who was a liberal arts
major, to get this level of recognition
as a designer was incredible."
The national profile for the Asheville-produced paper dresses also involved New York-based retailer Abraham & Strauss Department Stores,
precursor to today's Macy's. A & S
created a separate department in all
their stores called Waste Basket Boutique for the dresses and related disposable clothing
The apparent overnight success of Mars
actually ran quite a bit deeper. Audie
is the daughter of Morry Bard, who
opened Mars Hosiery Manufacturing in West Asheville in the 1940s.
The plant produced women's hosiery with seams running up the
back, and then became the first
company in the United States to
produce pantyhose. Audie left Asheville as a teen to attend Cornell
University, and she met her soul
mate, Bob, in her second week at
college. They eventually married
and returned to Asheville. Her father needed an engineer, which was
Bob's chosen field, and they decided
to see what contribution they could
make to the family business.
Bob witnessed the declining profit margin in the hosiery business and
turned his attention to disposable
goods. He first focused on making
disposable undershorts for army soldiers to wear in Vietnam.
"We made a lot of samples and
sent them into the field, but the
material was not as sophisticated
as it is now," Bob says. "It caused a
lot of chafing and would also cause
little pieces of paper to fall down
a guy's legs. Our real goal was to
get into the medical market, but
we knew the only way we'd get in
would be to create a buzz through
fashion. We started experimenting
with paper dresses."
A brief foray into the market
by national paper company Scott
(see sidebar) provided Mars with
"We jumped right in," says Audie. "We were ready. The Scott thing
was the impetus for us to carry on.
We were at the right place at the
right time and young enough to
take a chance."
May/June 2017 41