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Gainesville woman acquires exotic garments as a Pan Am employee

POSTED: March 4, 2012 1:30 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Joy Losee holds up part of an Uzbekistan wedding ensemble at her Hall County home. A world traveler who has collected clothes from around the world, Losee is donating a large portion of her collection to the University of North Texas.

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In between her summer dresses and winter coats, you're likely to find a sari from India or a wedding ensemble from Uzbekistan hanging in Joy Losee's closet.

Although she grew up in North Carolina, she's a true citizen of the world, apparent by her almost overwhelming collection of traditional women's wear from five of the seven continents.

"I used to work for (Pan American Airlines). As I was traveling all over the world, I started picking things up," said Losee, a Gainesville resident.

"I have a degree in cultural anthropology, so I have an interest in all the different cultures of the world. I was very interested in knowing what each group wore and why, how they made it, the materials they used and what it signified to them."

Even though she wanted to learn more about entire groups, she gravitated toward women's wear.

"To me, what the women were wearing in particular told me a lot about a culture. Usually, it is so much more elaborate than what the men wear," Losee said.

"When I'm looking for pieces, I go for the most spectacular looking ones that I can find. There's no point in having boring looking stuff."

At some point over the last 30 years, Losee became less of a casual shopper and more of a focused buyer.

"At first, it was sort of a hobby, but then it grew," Losee said.

"After I quit my job (as a flight attendant), I wasn't
traveling as much, so if I knew of somebody who was going someplace and I wanted something from there, I'd ask them to pick it up for me. Then it got to a place where people would just ship things to me, or I would go on a trip specifically to pick things up."

Her collection of dresses, robes, jewelry and other pieces likely numbers in the hundreds.

"I probably have around 75 complete outfits," Losee said.

"I focused on complete sets because I wanted to have as much as I could of an outfit. It didn't do any good to have just a skirt or hat."

The University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, appreciates her dedication.

"A few years ago, I started thinking about where it would end up ultimately. I have two sons and they mean well, but they wouldn't know what to do with it. I could see them wearing it for Halloween," Losee said with a laugh.

"I contacted a number of places around the country and a woman at the Smithsonian suggested the University of North Texas because they have one of the largest fashion museums in the country."

After following up with the university, Losee found a willing - and excited - beneficiary.

"More than ever, there is a need for us to have a greater understanding of world cultures," said Myra Walker, director of the Texas Fashion Collection at UNT.

"The importance of this gift is that (Losee) strives to collect all the parts of the costumes from head to toe. This attention to detail provides greater insight for study than only parts and pieces."

So far, Losee has donated about 27 outfits to the university. Over the next few years, she plans to triple that number.

Her collection likely has more stamps in its passport than the average person. There are pieces from places like Guatemala, Egypt, and Afghanistan. She has Turkish caftans, Nubian dresses and Middle Eastern abayas.

"I spent a month in Mexico and traveled to the various states there," Losee said.

"I picked up a lot of their traditional stuff down there."

Part of Losee's mission in gathering pieces for her collection was to bring faraway lands to the front door of people who may never otherwise see it. She has gypsy dresses decorated mirrors, tunics adorned with faux elk's teeth and festive caps topped with yarn pompoms.

"There are things (in the collection) that I know most people have not seen and that's what's so much fun about it," Losee said.

"That's really what keeps my interest alive."

Although she's personally been collecting for three decades, she has pieces - such as a sari her mother-in-law bought on a trip in the 1930s - that are much older.

"Some of the items are worn today, but some are more on the antique side," Losee said.

Although her 12-year career with Pan Am helped to feed her passion for travel and bolster her collections, she sort of stumbled into it.

"I was living in (Colorado) and I had a roommate at the time. She saw an ad that Pan Am was doing interviews at a hotel downtown and I was the only one who had a car, she begged me to take her," Losee said.

While at the interview, she started reading the information laid out about the company and instantly became "dazzled" at the thought of being able to travel internationally.

"When I was hired (in 1966), my family was mortified," Losee said.

"They were afraid of airplanes and the idea of going overseas. They were scared to death, but I wasn't. I loved it."

One of her first international trips was to Bangkok. Typically, her flights included a 24-48 hour layover, so Losee had time to explore. In 1969, she and a co-worker took advantage of their monthlong vacation to literally see the world.

"You'd hop on the (Pan Am) airplane and get off wherever you wanted," Losee said.

"You'd stay however long and then pick the flight back up when you wanted to go to the next point.

"We went all the way around the world."

Although many of her trips are documented with a piece of jewelry or clothing, Losee isn't just looking to collect things. She's also focused on making memories.

"This summer, I'm taking my sons to Machu Picchu (in Peru). I'm giving the trip to them as (college) graduation presents," Losee said.

"I think it's better than giving them a thing that'll wear out. They'll remember this trip for the rest of their lives. So will I."

Even if you aren't interested in building a wardrobe of international fashions, Losee has a universal piece of advice for all would-be travelers.

"You only live once," she said.

"When you an opportunity to travel, take it.

"You'll never regret it."

 



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