Crepe Paper Costumes

dennison's party magazine 1927, no 1, 22-23

Dennison instructed crafters how to use their crepe paper for costumes, 1927.

The homemade crepe paper costume was central to many parties. In nearly every Dennison publication, starting with its Tissue Entertainments for Children from the 1890s, paper costumes were present. The costumes for children were constructed simply; the familiarity of the ideas for plays made it such that the costumes became signifiers more than exact representations of characters, true to the aesthetics of the material.[1]

Recalling its original use as a fabric substitute, by the 1920s crepe was often a suggested material for costume parties. Instructions for these costumes often suggested loosely sewing the crepe design over fabric such as tarlatan or cheesecloth or sateen.[2] After the party the crepe layer could be discarded and the garment saved for the next event.[3]

Crepe Paper Dress, Full View

The crafter who created this crepe paper dress, c. 1929, selected contrasting crepe paper colors, and hand sewed them.

The construction of crepe paper costumes was relatively straightforward. Often, the instructions for the costumes underscored the ease, and the lack of skills required, despite the popularity of home sewing in this era.[4] For those who were less comfortable with needle and thread, instructions for costumes that slipped over one’s head like a sandwich board, with simple motifs like a cat’s silhouette or stars pasted on the front, were available.[5] An extant example of a slightly more complicated dress suggests that women were not just interested in the most basic form of costume-making.  A dress from 1929 includes blue-green stripes, a scalloped edge, and an opening in the back large enough for an older child or a young teenager to slip the dress over her clothing. The costume was not stylish enough to appear in a fashion magazine, but there was an attempt to consider aesthetics: the scalloped edges and color contrasting stripes were simple and offered enough visual variation to suggest that the costume was not created in a rush. The surprisingly sturdy material of the crepe did not rip along the back, but the large and clumsy stitches suggest that the maker understood the ephemeral quality of the dress. If it did tear, there was little effort exerted in the sewing.

dennison parties, costumes, sleek 1929

This edition of Dennison Party Magazine (1930) showed the sleek silhouettes of flapper-inspired dresses.

Although crepe paper was versatile for crafting, creating lasting costumes in flapper inspired silhouettes was probably not possible, and if so, not comfortable for the wearer. As the 1920s crept closer to the early years of the Great Depression, manufacturers like Dennison attempted to engage with the movement toward modernity and toward the liberated New Woman. The covers of Dennison publications, especially their quarterly magazines, demonstrated this shift. Elongated necks, elegant clothing, and modern fonts that mirrored those in popular outlets like Hollywood films were prevalent. It was also during this time crepe paper costumes shifted from silly to stylish. The silhouettes of women’s costumes became sleek, closer fitting to the body, like real fashionable dresses. The irony  was that paper, compared to silk and satin, was not something that could be comfortably close fitting, nor silent, as the materiality of crepe paper was crinkled and more attention gathering for its aural attraction than its aesthetics.[6] 

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Singer placed advertisements in Dennison’s Party Magazine throughout the late 1920s. This one appeared in 1927.

Singer, the manufacturer of sewing machines, often placed advertisements in Dennison’s Party Magazine, acknowledging those who had time and money to not only purchase a sewing machine, but perhaps create more elaborate costumes.[7]  Machine sewing could offer a reprise when it came to pleats or ruffles, but the material was still susceptible to ripping, and a gentle handling of the material was necessary to create these pieces.[8] Still, some women went so far as to include of snap closures on ephemeral dresses.[9]

Not unlike the tablescapes that were designed upon the idea of rotating holidays and changing themes, party costumes for men, women, and children often relied upon thematic motifs but changed the designs each holiday to suggest novelty in a crepe-paper fashion cycle. Some costumes were conceptual, transforming ideas like wind, fog, Liberty, and Columbia into three-dimensional costumes for plays or civic holidays. [10]

Crepe Paper dress, stitching detail

Detail of crepe paper dress. The crafter selected contrasting colors of blue-green and bright yellow.

The crepe paper costumes that Dennison advertised and suggested were really extended decorations that could freely move about the space of the party. Many of these costumes had a playful element (a paper witch hat with black hair, for example) but many more involved simple motifs, such as paper aprons with a pumpkin face, or red, white, and blue jumpers to help celebrate patriotic holidays like President’s Day or the Fourth of July. [11]

Throughout the 1920s, there was an element of playfulness, and good-natured humor that everyone seemed to recognize regarding crepe paper. The decorations for parties, as well as costumes and favors, underscored the playful nature of crepe; it was not precise, and its effect was in the visual tableau of the enclosed worlds that it helped to create. In several articles, as part of suggestions for party planning, crepe paper was suggested as a material that could be excellent in pranks, disguising crepe for candies and tricking guests into believing they were eating a regular sandwich, when in fact, it was crepe.[12] Crepe was silly and fun, but the joke, like other fads, soon got old.

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Public Celebrations         Dennison’s Declining Sales


[1] Tissue Paper Entertainments, c 1890.
[2]Edna Sibley Tipton, “A Jack-o-Lantern Dance,” Dennison’s Party Magazine, v1, no 5, 1927, 10, “Crepe Paper Costumes for Christmas Parties and Festivals,” Dennison’s Parties, 1929, v3, no4, 42-43.
[3]“Costumes Easily, Dennison’s Party, 22.
[4]Ibid, “The Slip-Over Costume,” Dennison’s Party Magazine, 1, no. 2,  16-17 and 36 and 35, Strasser, Never Done, 139-144.
[5]“Gay Costumes Are Part of Every Halloween Party,” Dennison’s Bogie Book (Framingham, MA: Dennison, 1925),24-25, “Gay Costumes for Halloween Parties,” Dennison’s Bogie Book (Framingham, MA: Dennison, 1926), 28-29.
[6]“Picturesque Costumes for the Masquerade,” Parties 4, no. 1, 1930, 22-23.
[7]“The Easy Way to Make Crepe-Paper Costumes,” Singer Electric Sewing Machine advertisement, Parties4, no. 1, 1929, 46.
[8]Yellow crepe paper dress, circa 1929, personal collection of the author.
[9]“I Bet She Won Best Costume 1920s Antique Pink Crepe Paper Halloween Flower Costume,” Etsylisting, https://www.etsy.com/listing/588775210/i-bet-she-won-best-costume-1920s-antique, Accessed April 2018.
[10]Elizabeth F. Guptill and Edyth M. Wormwood, Amateur’s Costume Book (Franklin, OH: Eldridge Entertainment House, 1923), 1, 2, and 14.
[11]Parties Magazine, Summer, 1929.
[12]Marie Pilotte, “An April Fool Frolic,” Dennison’s Party Magazine1, no. 2, 12, How to Entertain at Home(Boston: Priscilla Publishing Company, 1927), 254.

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