Professor researches historical clothing, artifacts
Findings show differences between states in Mid-Atlantic region
Damayanthie Eluwawalage, assistant professor of fashion design at Albright College, is conducting research on the disregarded elements of costume from 1600 to 1900 in the Mid-Atlantic region, adding meaning and context to clothing and artifacts of that time.
“This research has never been done before in any of the states,” Eluwawalage said. “These are really, really valuable things for your family and the culture and society here.”
Eluwawalage research examines internal and external influences of fashion, including worldwide events, economics, and societal attitudes.
A graduate of both Curtin University of Technology and Edith Cowan University in Australia,
The Cocalico clothing is unique among Damayanthie Eluwawalage’s research.
Eluwawalage learned about fashion and costumes, their applications, and the history behind it all. Eluwawalage was always interested in research.
Eluwawalage, who became a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in 2017 at the Lancaster Museum Org., started her research in 2008 in New York, when she taught at State University of New York, College at Onconta. She said the research has since grown to encompass New York, New Jersey, and now Pennsylvania.
“There is a big difference between the state of New York and Pennsylvania,” Eluwawalage said, calling the research “mesmerizing.”
One example she gave is how cotton is used more often in Pennsylvania historical clothing than elsewhere. The material is a luxury in other places, according to Eluwawalage.
“Here everyone’s wearing cotton,” she said.
But even within Pennsylvania, Eluwawalage is finding different and unique patterns, the Cocalico, Pa., collection being one.
“They have a big collection of working class, and one of the things I found is that at the time women wore lots of underwear — petticoats and that stuff. In winter time … they wore layers,” Eluwawalage said. “The Cocalico collection: they had a petticoat underneath. It’s quilted and it’s so smart. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere in the world.”
Though, she does sometimes run into problems with her research. Museums don’t always know who wore certain pieces of clothing or where they are from, according to Eluwawalage.
“That’s why the everyday person is important,” Eluwawalage said. “The good thing about everyday people is that they’re very welcoming and they want to show off their ancestors.”
Eluwawalage is hoping to open an exhibition for surviving artifacts within two or three months. She mentioned it may possibly be held at DoubleTree in Reading. She currently has 60 to 80 surviving costumes and would like to present around 30 at the exhibit.
Damayanthie Eluwawalage is conducted research on historical clothing and artifacts.
“I’m a historian. We tell the story about a nation,” Eluwawalage said. “This is my contribution.”
Eluwawalage can be contacted to discuss surviving costumes or artifacts that anyone has at email@example.com or 607-353-5005. She would come, take phots, sketch the items, and discuss them with the owner.
Albright Assistant Professor