Genre: Non-fiction, Fashion, History.
Publisher: Hatchett Publishing
Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟1/2 Stars
Amber Butchard is the charismatic TV host of the BBC’s ‘A Stitch in Time’, a fantastic show about the history of fashion told in several outfits. She is also a fashion historian and author. She has blazing red hair in a chic bob, wears interesting hats and bright red lipstick. She has a real panache and style about her and I have to confess I have a bit of a girl crush on her.
This book is an important part of the puzzle of history. The sartorial choices of prominent people of history is a topic generally deemed to be too frivolous and or effeminate to be tackled by most (straight male) historians. History is awash with stories of battles and important events, but not enough attention is paid to what people were wearing at the time and how clothing and adornment makes the personal political, and often has revolutionary consequences.
This is the one book that really nails it by focusing on the nexus of power that clothing can be: a tool for sexual power, a way to show off wealth and status, a form of personal liberation from the strictures of society, a way of rebelling against the norm, a way for young people or marginalised people to stick their finger up to authority.
Clothing can be used to bind and conform, but it can also be used to break free. This is a very powerful book and if you are interested in history, fashion or both. You will see all of the usual suspects from history, a lot of white European aristocracy in here, but you will also get to know a lot of people from history who may have escaped your attention: queer and transgender icons from across the ages, Indian and Asian fashion icons, African queens, early revolutionaries.
Butchard has a brilliant and compelling way of writing that’s eloquent and interesting. I would say she’s at the height of her powers. One minor annoyance with this book I had was that whoever designed and produced it has decided on a very dull cover, with the outlines of drawn models on it. The cover art is understated to the point of being boring. Given the topic, the cover should have been outrageously bright and fun, I’m not sure why it wasn’t. Also they have used an almost unreadable font for the body and headings, which is really irritating to read. Get over that by using a huge light and reading it up close to your face and you’re good to go.
🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 1/2 Stars (would give the book’s content five stars, but the typography was really faint and annoying, I would suggest a different designer for the next edition)