Updated: Aug 20, 2021
Crepe paper Halloween dress, hat and mask, late 1920s
The origin of crepe paper is a bit murky. It appears to have been developed in Japan by the 1860s and by the 1880s was being produced in Germany, but there isn't any specific person or company that is given credit for its invention. The earliest reference to it in North America comes from the Philadelphia department store Wanamaker's that advertised crepe paper table clothes and shams in November 1883. By 1890 Dennison's, a paper company in Maine, was importing crepe paper from Europe and were producing it themselves by 1914.
In the early 1900s, crepe paper was being sold in narrow rolls for decorative streamers, as well as in wider sizes for making everything from lampshades to fancy dresses.
Fancy dress parties had become popular by 1910, especially for Halloween, a North American holiday that was gaining popularity as an occasion for holding fancy dress parties.
For costume making, crepe paper had several benefits, it was elastic, colourful, fire resistant, and could be sewn by machine onto cotton undergarments. Despite its positive attributes, crepe paper was a disaster when it became wet – the paper lost its tensile strength and the colourful dyes quickly ran.
Nylon, vinyl and plastic displaced crepe paper for outdoor trick or treating in the 1950s and by the time the fad for paper fashion dresses (made from a different type of paper) began in 1966, crepe paper was no longer being used for making costumes.