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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events. Made possible with support from PNC Financial Services.

The Lois Jett Collection gets groovy with a 1960s fashion exhibit

Two people smile at the camera, standing in front of three dress forms clothed in colorful shift dresses
Lauren Warnecke
Kehinde Ayedun, left, and Nina Floresca are interns for the Lois Jett Historic Costume Collections, housed in Illinois State University's Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. They installed the gallery's current exhibit focusing on fashions from the 1960s.

What at first looks like a non-descript classroom in Turner Hall on Illinois State’s campus boasts thousands of garments spanning more than 100 years of fashion. It’s all part of the Lois Jett Historic Costume Collection.

Through May 5, the pint-sized gallery is host to a student-led exhibit called “Grooving through the 1960s,” organized by senior fashion majors Melanie Guzman and Michele Parr. The show explores various colors and textures of the decade, plus curated selections from the mod and hippie eras.

“I’ve always really liked ‘60s wear,” said Nina Floresca, another senior fashion major and intern for the Lois Jett Collection. Floresca and fellow intern Kehinde Ayedun were responsible for installing the exhibit and are in the process of developing their own show for the fall.

“It’s such a fun time, everything is very bright, and I typically like wearing brighter, more colorful clothes—a lot of patterns to. For me, I really resonate with that.”

Three of the gallery’s four walls are divided into themes: color, mod and hippies. A center display focuses on accessories like shoes and handbags. Floresca and Ayedun provided input to the curators that resulted in incorporating more menswear and vintage nylons, still in the package, plus environmental effects like magazines to fill out the exhibit.

A display case housing two dresses and a platform filled with 1960s accessories.
Lauren Warnecke
Among the rarer items on display is an authentic paper dress from the 1960s (right)

“When you first walk into the collection, it’s kind of a world view at first,” said Ayedun. “You see the whole entire collection. Then, as you get closer, you get to actually see the textures and the patterns, and the colors and materials that were present during that time.”

The 1960s marked a seismic shift toward synthetic and alternative fabrics, ushering a wave of polyester that would persist into the ‘70s. In the hallway display outside the exhibit, there’s a delicate paper dress in remarkably good condition from the period.

The internship model for the Lois Jett Collection sets up one semester’s interns to curate their own show the following semester. Though Ayedun and Floresca will have graduated by that time, they are developing a theme while still in school.

“We want it to revolve around women throughout history,” said Floresca. “We especially want to emphasize minority women throughout history.”

“Women of color have influenced the fashion scene,” added Ayedun. This can be seen in the current exhibit as well; the 1960s were a period of reconnection to cultural roots for Black, Latino and Asian Americans. Colorful patterns and a dashiki on display are a nod to the hippies' rejection of corporate culture, which, at the time, was overwhelmingly white.

“When (a trend) starts with African American or Asian women, I see the majority of the population being like, oh, that’s cool; I want to try it,” said Ayedun. “Then it becomes ‘mainstream.’ We want to remind people this is where credit is due. We want to create that story and create that time capsule of each woman in history that contributes to how things are today.”

“Grooving Through the 1960s” is open from 1-4 p.m. Sunday at the Lois Jett Historic Costume Collecting in Turner Hall Room 126, 700 W. College Ave. Admission is free. The exhibit also can be seen through May 5 during the galleries’ regular hours — 11 a.m.– 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, or by appointment.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.