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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published Jan. 12, 2012                                             



What can we learn from fashion styles of the past?

   The history of fashion is often overlooked — and there’s a reason for that, said Hinsdale’s Efry Ayala, a corporate trainer who teaches part-time in the College of DuPage’s fashion design and merchandising department.
   “We see these historical buildings and these historical places, but we don’t see the people who lived there, at least not readily. Textiles don’t survive time, so we forget about them,” he said.
   The evidence that does exist, such as portraits of individuals, may not be a true reflection of clothing at the time.
   “What survives becomes these exaggerated examples of what people wore,” he said. “It becomes very disconnected to the everyday activities of what people were doing.”
   Even so, fashion has a lot to teach us about history, Ayala believes.
   “There is a lot that can be told about a person, a person’s life and the time they lived in by what they wore,” he said.
   For example, the bustle became popular during the Victorian era because of the Industrial Revolution.
   “From a manufacturing perspective, we were able to produce thinner, lighter materials and, all of a sudden, a crinoline or a petticoat could be done in a light matter. Skirts grew to ridiculous, voluminous sizes, and the short answer is because we could,” he said. “To get a skirt as big as early Victorian skirts, you would have needed so many skirts underneath that a woman would be completely incapacitated.”
   Connections to fashion also can be seen in architecture and furniture design. French doors were designed in the 18th century to allow women wearing very wide skirts to pass through a doorway facing forward, Ayala said.
   Ayala will share his knowledge of fashion history next week at the final of three lectures offered by the Hinsdale Historical Society. He will focus on 19th and early 20th century fashion. His earlier lectures covered the origins of Western fashion and the height of fashion. Ayala’s favorite two periods are the 16th and 18th centuries.
   “The last Renaissance styles of the 16th century are kind of a peak, a point at which fashion had been going up to. After the 16th century, there are ups and downs and ups and downs, depending on what period you’re looking at.”
   The 17th century marked one of the dips for a variety of social, economic and political reasons, with the 18th century being one of the ups. Europe — France in particular — decided to turn fashion into an industry in the 1700s.
   “That’s the birth of fashion as we know it, the clothing and apparel and accessory industry as we know it,” he said. “It’s also heinously extravagant, which is always fun from a historical perspective.”
   Ayala has enjoyed sharing his knowledge with residents. He became involved with the historical society while he was looking for opportunities to get his C.O.D. students out of the classroom.
   “That’s when I discovered Hinsdale had a historical society, and textiles is the largest part of their collection,” he said.
   He worked with museum manager Anne Swenson last year on an exhibit of eight different garments, which some of his students helped mend before they went on display.
   Ayala is a huge fan of history but not of numerical data. That’s why he likes studying and teaching fashion.
   “It’s not about the specific dates. It’s, ‘During this time frame, what was happening in the world that affected what people wore, and how did what people wear affect their daily lives, which in turn creates an effect in the world,’ ” he said. “To the everyday person, that’s how we connect with history today.”

— by Pamela Lannom

  Making a Difference is a yearlong partnership between
The Hinsdalean and the Hinsdale Historical Society, which works to collect, preserve and promote the village’s history and its architecture.



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