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posted: 2/7/2014 5:45 AM

Fashion accessories tell DuPage County's story in new exhibit

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  • A vest watch chain made from braided human hair is on display in a new exhibit titled "Fashion Accessories: In Vogue … and Out," at the DuPage County Historical Museum in Wheaton. The chain belonged to Newton E. Matter, owner of the Wheaton Illinoisan Newspaper.

       A vest watch chain made from braided human hair is on display in a new exhibit titled "Fashion Accessories: In Vogue … and Out," at the DuPage County Historical Museum in Wheaton. The chain belonged to Newton E. Matter, owner of the Wheaton Illinoisan Newspaper.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • The Chicagoan Magazine from 1928 is on display in a new exhibit titled "Fashion Accessories: In Vogue  and Out," at the DuPage County Historical Museum in Wheaton.

       The Chicagoan Magazine from 1928 is on display in a new exhibit titled "Fashion Accessories: In Vogue and Out," at the DuPage County Historical Museum in Wheaton.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Museum Educator Sara Buttita said the exhibit "Fashion Accessories: In Vogue  and Out" was fun for the women on staff at the DuPage County Historical Museum to put together.

       Museum Educator Sara Buttita said the exhibit "Fashion Accessories: In Vogue and Out" was fun for the women on staff at the DuPage County Historical Museum to put together.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • "Fashion Accessories: In Vogue  and Out" showcases unusual pieces such as this watch that spells out the owner's name, starting at 1 o'clock.

       "Fashion Accessories: In Vogue and Out" showcases unusual pieces such as this watch that spells out the owner's name, starting at 1 o'clock.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • "Fashion Accessories: In Vogue  and Out" is a new exhibit at the DuPage County Historical Museum in Wheaton.

       "Fashion Accessories: In Vogue and Out" is a new exhibit at the DuPage County Historical Museum in Wheaton.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 

Wearing a ring made of your deceased husband's hair may seem creepy nowadays, but in the late 1800s it was a fashion trend that was found throughout the world, including in DuPage County.

Items made from braided human hair and about 300 other accessories from the 1880s to 1990s are now on display at the DuPage County Historical Museum's new exhibit, "Fashion Accessories: In Vogue … and Out." The free exhibit is open through August at the museum, 102 E. Wesley St., Wheaton.

Sara Buttita, museum educator, said the idea came about after numerous visitors requested a fashion- or wedding-themed exhibit.

"It can be a challenge to display a full ensemble, so we thought accessories would be a fun way to explore fashion from a different angle," she said.

Some unusual items include small tinted goggles people would wear while driving early cars; a black hat covered in gold cicadas pins; and a watch that spells out the owner's name with letters where the numbers should be.

One display case focuses on the changes in color that are seen in accessories, such as patriotic reds and blues in the 1910s and 1920s to vibrant oranges and turquoises during the jazz age.

The exhibit features history on local brands and stores, such as the now-closed Fleming's of Glen Ellyn, and examines how the places where accessories were bought shifted from mail-order catalogs to department stores and shopping malls.

Even though it wasn't located in DuPage County, there is information on display about the accessories made by the Elgin National Watch Company.

"At one time they were creating up to 60 or 80 percent of watches that people in the United State owned," Buttita said, adding that the company was also instrumental in creating Standard Time. "They were a local company we tried to highlight."

Hats and gloves are abundant in the exhibit, and Buttita noted how their purpose has changed over time.

"Hats and gloves were important for women in terms of etiquette. Now we just think of them as accessories, but they were an important part of your entire outfit," she said. "You wouldn't leave the house without a hat and gloves, and that's certainly changed today."

Purses ranging from small beaded pouches to the fanny pack fill another display case.

"With women joining the workforce that was the first time they needed a bag to carry their cosmetics, their keys, their wallet, things like that, so the size of the handbag sort of increased as that happened," Buttita said.

Men's smoking accessories, hair combs and undergarments also are highlighted, along with jewelry, fashion magazine covers, sewing kits and the materials used to make accessories.

"Hunting exploded across the county just to keep up with the demand that women had for feathers in fashion," Buttita said, pointing to a red feather fan with a compact attached to it. "After World War I and World War II, you start to see this explosion of plastic products."

Considering much of the museum's inventory consists of farm equipment and farm tools, the exhibit is something different that was particularly fun for the women on staff to put together, Buttita said.

"I remember my grandmother wearing some of this stuff and even the sewing patterns remind me of my mom," she said. "I think that people will have a lot of personal connections to this exhibit. It's a fun walk down memory lane."

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