(Originally blogged October 30, 2008)
Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to track down the exact origin of crepe paper. It appears to have been developed sometime in the 1890s* in Germany but I have never been able to find a specific person or company who developed it or a date when it was first made.
By 1900 crepe paper was commercially available and being offered in the form of floral printed paper napkins (the first ever marketed). Crepe paper was also being offered in rolls for use as streamers as well as wider sizes for use as yardage for holiday decorating and fancy dress construction.
Fancy dress parties began as masque balls during the Renaissance and by the end of the 19th century had become popular for a number of occasions, especially Halloween – a newly celebrated holiday that was gaining popularity for the distinct purpose of dressing up in costume.
Crepe paper and Halloween promoted each other until the 1920s when Halloween had become a standard holiday celebrated across North America. Crepe paper was elastic, colourful, fire resistant, and could be sewn by machine onto cotton undergarments. Despite its positive attributes, crepe paper had two major flaws – in rain, the paper lost its tensile strength and would tear easily (which is why it was sewn to cotton undergarments), and at the slightest hint of moisture the dyes ran faster than Tammy Faye Baker’s face!
Nylon, vinyl and plastic were taking the place of crepe paper for outdoor trick or treating in the 1950s and by the time the fad for paper dresses began in 1966 (see Ready to Tear) crepe paper had been relegated for use as party streamers.
* a visitor comment from Lynne noted that she had found a newspaper advertisment from John Wanamaker’s (Philadelphia department store) dating from November 1883 for “Crepe paper table clothes and shams, 75c. to $1.50? which predated the earliest reference I had found for crepe paper which had been 1893