Published Jan. 12, 2012
ASK AN EXPERT
EFRY AYALA, FASHION INSTRUCTOR
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
“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
“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
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
“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
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.”
Making a Difference is a yearlong partnership
The Hinsdalean and the Hinsdale Historical Society,
which works to collect, preserve and promote the
village’s history and its architecture.