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Faculty Spotlight: Julie Hillery

Dec. 2, 2013

By Megan Kirby  

“People will say, ‘Oh, I don’t care about clothing,’ but deep down, you have to think about it every day,” says Julie Hillery, Fashion Studies professor at Columbia College Chicago. “I tend to be a people watcher, just observing how people dress, the different spins they put on things, how they present different personalities.”

Hillery combined her experience in the industry and the classroom to co-author Careers! Professional Development for Retailing and Apparel Merchandising and Ethics in the Fashion Industry. In 2014, she’s going to University of New Mexico for a guest appointment as the Carruthers Chair in the honors program to teach about the ethics of the fashion industry and the sociological-psychological side of culture and clothing. She talked with ColumbiaOnline about her start in fashion, the ways clothing can affect our self-worth and health, and what she thinks of Columbia College students’ distinct urban looks. 

ColumbiaOnline: How did you end up interested in fashion?
Julie Hillery: My mom always tells this story about taking all of her kids to the store, and all my siblings would run to the toy department, and I would run to the fabric department. So I think I’ve always been interested in fashion. I started making my own dresses when I was 10 years old. 

CO: What sorts of jobs have you had in the fashion industry?
JH: Oh gosh, I’ve done a little bit of everything. I started selling shoes when I was 16, then I sold [designer] jeans in the ’70s. I sold custom draperies. I managed clothing stores. I worked for Revlon selling cosmetics. I worked wholesale repping lines when I was [getting a fashion studies MS] at Ohio State. 

The last job I had in the industry was really awesome. I lived in Connecticut, and I worked for a lady who had two specialty clothing stores. I got to help her with all the buying for those stores, so we’d go to New York City once a month to do the buying. I loved that. 

CO: Your academic career focuses a lot on the sociological and psychological sides of fashion. Why is fashion important in those fields?
JH: That’s really my true love. When I did my master’s thesis, my professor mentioned that she had a friend who had lost a battle with breast cancer, and one of the most horrible experiences for her—believe it or not—was that her hair fell out when she had chemo. I did a study looking at what women were doing to maintain their self-image when their hair fell out. There were not a lot of studies at that time, and still today, that [say] if you look good, you feel better about yourself. There are even studies that [say] you get better quicker.

CO: What do you like the most about teaching?
JH: I loved working in the industry, but I felt like I was stagnating. I wasn’t learning anything. And that’s when I started thinking about what I’m going to do with the next part of my life. I always enjoyed helping people, teaching people and learning things.  

CO: Do you think Columbia has a certain look?
JH: Oh, definitely, that’s what I love about it here. The main thing I love is no matter what you look like here, everybody is creative, everybody has their own take on things, and people are accepting of that. I always felt like I was kind of the black sheep, the way I dressed in college. And here, nobody even thinks twice about it.