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posted: 1/24/2014 12:56 PM

DuPage museum's exhibit traces history through fashion accessories

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Can a hat tell a story? Does a wristwatch have the power to teach us lessons about our own lives? According to a new accessories exhibit at the DuPage County Historical Museum, the answer is a resounding "yes."

"Fashion Accessories In Vogue and Out" is an in-depth look at these small yet fascinating pieces of fashion and the stories behind their owners. The exhibit runs through Aug. 24 at the museum, 102 E. Wesley St., Wheaton.

Fashions come and go, changed dramatically by society, the political landscape, architecture and a number of other factors. One way we can evaluate such changes is by looking at the accessories people have donned throughout the years: hats, parasols, pocket watches, undergarments and other items.

Accessories speak volumes about the way people lived and what they believed about the world and themselves. And, ultimately, they teach us about ourselves and how we use fashion to express ourselves in a number of ways.

"We wanted to explore the forgotten trends," museum educator Sara Buttita said. "And we wanted to specifically look at how changes in society or events in the world made an impact on fashion."

Museum Curator Sara Arnas agrees.

"People today can look back and see how everything going on in culture influences fashion," Arnas said. "Fashion is something that we need every day, so it's an interesting way to analyze what was happening at the time."

Many accessories featured in the exhibit are early examples of what we still use today, even if they look different, such as hats and lingerie. Other pieces are almost obsolete in modern society. Take, for example, gloves: Once used to demonstrate a lady's modesty and place in society, gloves are now only used for very formal occasions. Examples like this can teach about women's changing roles in society.

But this exhibit won't just appeal to women; there are many accessories in this exhibit that once belonged to men. There is one wrist watch in particular that has an interesting background, formerly belonging to Wheaton's Edwin Deicke.

Born in 1896, Deicke was a major benefactor in the community of Wheaton and purchased the DuPage County Historical Museum building, which he then bestowed to the DuPage County Historical Society in 1965.

Notably, Deicke and his wife also provided the major underwriting for the Perry Mastodon exhibit at Wheaton College, enjoyed by many local residents. Deicke's wristwatch, manufactured by an Elgin company, is unique because of its personalization on the face of the watch, replacing the normal clock numbers with letters from his name.

Like Deicke's watch, many of these pieces come directly from the museum's own collection.

"We have a great and varied collection," Buttita said, "so we're excited to be able to showcase all the different hats and jewelry. The majority of them haven't been on exhibit for at least 15 years."

Buttita and Arnas believe these accessories have the power to tell fascinating personal stories, like Deicke's, but they also reveal what was happening in society and around the world. Arnas mentions a cover of Vogue from the World War II era.

"You can tell what's going on in the country by the cover of the magazine and its contents. Of course, it's Vogue, so it's still very fashion driven, but you can tell they were trying to be as involved in the war effort as possible," Arnas said.

"Normally we wouldn't connect war to fashion, but the connection between world events and what we wear is stronger than we think. That's what this exhibit is about."

For information on the "In Vogue" exhibit, including upcoming exhibit-related programs, visit or call (630) 510-4941.