Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2017 - 43
For the Complete Mars Paper
Dress Story and More . . .
Bob and Audie Bayer, who shepherded the '60s
craze, still live in Asheville, and donated their
paper-fashion items to the Asheville Art Museum.
says Audie. "Today, you look at it
and think 'oh my gosh,' but it's what
sold. We did the packaging locally
at Daniel's Graphics." The dresses
caught the eye of editors at Woman's
Wear Daily, which featured a picture
of Mars Manufacturing disposable
dresses on the front page along with
an article. Sales exploded.
"We went to the National Notions Show in New York City about
a month after the Woman's Wear
Daily article came out," explains Bob.
"The buyers went wild. They needed
something to pep up that department. That's where we got our first
orders-from department stores all
over the country."
They were also in the premium
promotion field, creating paper
dresses for companies like Hallmark.
Four times a year, Hallmark changed
its design of a combo featuring a
paper dress for a hostess to wear
along with all the matching paper
goods: cups, napkins and plates to
be used at a party. They produced
dresses and other items for presidential campaigns and corporations like
"We were at a restaurant in Asheville when I first heard about this
new concept of a charge card," says
Bob. "[MasterCard] was called Master
Charge at that time, and we made a
Master Charge dress as a promotion
to kick off their new card."
Audie admits that paper dresses were uncomfortable to wear, and she says she
still finds it very interesting that people bought them. While she didn't
wear the dresses often-she says she
never saw anyone in Asheville walk-
This piece is excerpted and adapted from Marla Hardee Milling's
new book, "Legends, Secrets and Mysteries of Asheville," due on
June 26 from The History Press. The book contains 12 chapters
of fascinating stories from in and around Asheville. For information or a copy visit arcadiapublishing.com.
ing down the street in a paper dress
during that time-she does have a
fun memory of wearing one of the
evening gowns she designed.
"We had been experimenting
with a company coating paper with
metallic," she says. "I made a long
silver evening gown. Grove Park Inn
used to close in the winter, but they
would have a big fancy ball dance
on New Year's Eve and fire up the
big fireplaces. I took one of our long
silver foil dresses and bought some
silver drapery trim and sewed it
around the neck. That was fun."
In some real high society benefits
for museums in New York City, the
invitation would be a paper dress.
It was sent out as an invitation to
benefactors, and they were told to
decorate the dress in any way they
wanted. Some took them to famous
designers, who added features and
plumes and beading. Women were
trying to outdo each other. That really cracked us up that they were
putting all that money into a $1.99
dress. Pretty frivolous.
Audie also enjoyed the "paint
your own" dresses they produced-
plain white dresses with paint to
make your own design. These were
popular for little girls at birthday
parties, but Audie remembers a party where the adults enjoyed their
own brand of creativity.
"Every woman there put on a
white paper dress, and their husbands decorated the dress while it
was on her," she says. "Everyone
had a few drinks, and it really got
Famed pop artist Andy Warhol
decorated a paint-your-own paper
dress with the word "Fragile" displayed on it. That dress is among
holdings at the Brooklyn Museum.
At the time, Warhol didn't have any
name recognition. "
The saying "All good things must come
to an end" held true for the paper
dress industry. The trend fizzled
out, putting smaller manufacturers out of business. But Bob Bayer
"So many people were saying,
'It's phenomenal, but it's going to
end,'" says Audie. "I give Bob credit
for quietly planning what would
He refocused attention on industrial and medical disposables, but it
wasn't a quick, easy sell to doctors,
who were fixed in their belief that
cotton was better.
"The operating nurses were the
ones who were our champions,"
says Bob. "They wanted the product.
They went back to their chiefs of
staff and helped push it. They were
The Bayers sold Mars Manufacturing in 1970 to Work Wear Corporation. After that, they founded
American Threshold Industries, and
focused on producing disposable
hospital and laboratory products.
They retired when they sold this
company in the late 1990s. They
donated their collection of paper
dresses and other paper garments to
the Asheville Art Museum. They also
donated much of the ephemera-
advertising, newspaper articles and
other printed information-to the
Special Collections at D.H. Hiden
May/June 2017 43