Speed Read: Putting on (L.S.) Ayres

Behind the seams of the Indiana History Center’s new fashion exhibit.

Roaming models. Daily runway shows. Classy hats. All of L.S. Ayres’s nostalgic touchstones are represented in the Indiana History Center’s latest attraction, You Are There: That Ayres Look. Here’s why the show, open now, feels so pulled together.


1. You Are There installations use how-is-that-possible technology to immerse visitors in a specific moment in time. To enter the exhibit, guests walk through a vintage photograph that appears to hang in midair. (It’s a nifty  trick: The image is projected onto microscopic drops of water.) For this version, beyond the misty “fog screen” sits  a space featuring display cases full of Ayres outfits from 1959 (part of a long-running ad campaign called “That Ayres Look”) and much more.


2. That Ayres Look is the 11th You Are There exhibit since the concept debuted in 2010. For another bit of magic in this edition, guests are handed an iPad to hold up to a replica of the Ayres clock. The image acts like a QR code  by triggering a video showing workers cleaning the clock in the 1930s. The result is an illusion—it feels like the  clock-cleaners are inside the exhibit with you.


3. Want to see how hem-lines, colors, patterns, and styles evolved over the decades? The outfits on a digitally dressed mannequin change to illustrate the progression of clothing sold at Ayres from the 1900s through the 1980s.AyresCherub


Selfie alert: The famous Ayres cherub that appears downtown during the holidays will be on display.


4. Research for the installation (which will run for 17 months) started years ago and led to Kenneth Turchi’s 2012 book, L.S. Ayres and Company: The Store at the Crossroads of America.


5. IHS staffers pored through documents and artifacts and got in touch with former employees, including many of the models, now in their 80s and 90s. “I fell in love with them,” says Eloise Batic, director of exhibitions research. “When they’re talking to you, they will still strike a pose.” Some will walk the runway again in a fashion show at the History Center on June 17.


6. A rotating cast of actors chats with visitors, and you never know whom you’ll meet. One day it might be the store manager, another an Ayres family member or a fashion buyer—all were (or are) real people.


7. There’s a special treat in store for employees from several decades ago. Many told the History Center researchers about Brownie, a greeter at the Pearl Street entrance, but none of them ever knew his real name. The team used Ayres files and city directories to identify him as Leroy Brown, learn about his job, and re-create his character.


8. The exhibit also highlights the business’s innovative culture. For example, Ayres was the first employer in the city to hold a company picnic, and it had the first air-conditioned building. The Ayr-Way discount retail model even paved the way for Target and other big-box bargain stores.


Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, 450 W. Ohio St. Tickets $7 adults, $5 kids 5–17, free for members.