Amber Jane Butchart wears a lot of different hats. Not actual hats of course (although she’s rather partial to those too), but metaphorical ones. There’s the presenter hat – she’s spoken about subjects as diverse as Margaret Thatcher’s wardrobe and 1940s style on television and radio. And there’s the speaker hat – she’s hosts a regular ‘In Conversation’ series of talks at the V&A, and has spoken on Jane Austen-era fashion and cross-dressing in Victorian music halls at venues including the British Museum and the ICA.
Did we mention that Amber also wears a DJ hat? Oh yes. She’s one half of the Broken Hearts – a spectacular musical duo who (amongst many, many other things) have a simply beautiful show on Jazz FM. And of course, we mustn’t forget the London College of Fashion, where Amber sports an Associate Lecturer in Cultural & Historical Studies hat. All in all, if there’s anyone who knows anything about fashion history, Amber’s your girl. It’s a fascinating area and so we’re delighted that Amber’s shared her favourite five books and films about fashion history…
People often criticise dress as being superficial, but in reality it can reflect many things about society and culture. Dominique and François Gaulme’s book is beautiful and hugely informative, covering leaders from Tutankhamun to the Sun King, Emperor Hirohito, Jacob Zuma, the Obamas and more. It shows that style never lacks substance, especially in the political arena.
Not strictly a fashion book, but I’m currently writing a book on nautical style, so I’ve been getting up close and personal with maritime history! One of my research interests is bifurcation – trousers – and how they represent gender and power. I find cross-dressing women throughout history really fascinating, especially when it’s women at sea.
I’m a bit obsessed with the Ballets Russes, and with the Orientalist designs of the period from designers like Poiret, so this book is a dream come true for me. I’m interested in the history of performance, and the places where fashion and theatre overlap, so the combination of costume design and fashion make this one of my favourites.
Directed by George Cukor in 1939, The Women has one of the best fashion show sequences in any film. It’s the only section of the film shot in colour, and it has a dazzling array of outfits from Surrealist-inspired jackets (see the disembodied hand clasp!) to beach and sports wear. Not only is it an enchanting view of the decade’s fashions, but it also shows how clearly films were marketed at women – who were seen as the primary consumers – at this time.
Sticking with the idea of Orientalism in design, this book is a fantastic examination of cross-cultural pollination between east and west. Author Valerie Steele looks at Chinese clothing and identity throughout history, from the Imperial era to relatively recent innovations like the cheongsam and the Mao Suit. Power, politics and style are closely intertwined again. Cultural ‘borrowing’ – whether you term it appropriation or appreciation – has been around for centuries. Plus Valerie Steele is my hero; I want to be her when I grow up.