Printing a photograph on fabric these days is no huge deal. Crafters can do it at home, and online shops make it easy to order, say, a batch of T-shirts with a baby picture on them for whatever birthday party is coming up.
But once upon a time printing photographs on fabrics was a gee-whiz accomplishment, and LIFE was there to have some fun with it.
“Until now anyone claiming to have seen a dinner dress decorated with life-size photographs of the wearer would have been met with breath-sniffing suspicion or clinical alarm,” LIFE said in its December 8, 1947 issue. “Today, however, such dresses can be made and photographs of everything from animals to pearl necklaces are being printed not only on dress fabrics but on upholster, pillows, ties, bathing suits and lingerie.”
The story was an occasion for LIFE photographer Nina Leen to creaTe some amusing pictures, such as the one of the man falling asleep on a pillow adorned with the face of actress Hedy Lamarr, or the one of the model wearing a dress covered with photographs of her own smiling face.
The photo in the story that presaged how this printing technology would actually be used in modern everyday life may well be the one of the woman whose shawl has a photograph of her dog. While LIFE’s story declared that ‘For the textile industry photographic fabrics are the big news of the year,” the printing of recognizable photos on clothes has, in modern life, been more for novelty products than conventional fashion.
It’s a common story of technology: it’s one kind of advance to be able to do something, and another to realize maybe you shouldn’t.