The latest book by fashion historian, and now TV presenter Amber Butchart (A Stitch in Time on BBC 4 – second season please), is a comprehensively researched stroll through the best dressed folk ever to exist on the planet.
The Fashion Chronicles: The Style Stories of History’s Best Dressed is laid out to be effortlessly readable, split into sections ranging from Ancient (and we mean ancient; basically like the first clothes ever) to 20th and 21st Century. Each entry gets a couple of pages of engaging historical notes and background justifying their inclusion along with a photo / picture or two. It works; it doesn’t feel like study or revision, it feels like storytelling.
What makes this book so interesting to a wide audience is the sheer scope of those who make Butchart’s cut. From Theodora, Empress of the Byzantine Empire (circa. 500 – 548 ce), wearer of a crown that featured a ‘pendilia of pearls and gems’ that hung below her shoulders, to JFK (1917 – 63), laid back champion of the Ivy League look. Even Marlon Brando (1924 – 2004), who basically invented sex in a t-shirt, is included. Lesser known names are perhaps the most fun though. How about Jules Léotard (c. 1838 / 42 – 70)? A French acrobat and aerialist whose knitted one-piece, which is such a familiar designation in contemporary terminology, was indeed named after him.
The best thing about this book, however, is just how easy to dip in and out of it is. Very much an accessible read for anybody, backed safe in the knowledge that its author is not just an authority on the history of fashion, but perhaps the authority.
The Fashion Chronicles: The Style Secrets of History’s Best Dressed by Amber Butchart is available now published by Mitchell Beazley.
© 2018, Lord Christopher Laverty.