On Friday, I was lucky enough to attend a talk by fashion historian Amber Butchart about Charles II and his impact on men’s fashion. Combining my love of all things seventeenth century with my love of fashion, this was always going to peak my interest and I have become something of a fan of the rather wonderful Amber.
I get very excited any time I see something about Charles II in the popular media, anything on television, the cover of a magazine, a piece on the radio. My fascination with The Merry Monarch is no secret – aside from naming my cake business in his honour, I adorn my home with framed portraits and collect as many books as I can get my manicured hands on. I’ve even had to dedicate an entire bookshelf (and an entire landing!) in my home to my growing collection.
When the first trailer ran for A Stitch in Time, Amber’s series for the BBC in which she explored the fashion as portrayed in a painting and had the outfit recreated, I set the box to record as her very first episode was about Charles II. If there is one thing that all historians should be able to agree upon when discussing the King, it should be that he had style. In the appropriate surroundings of Palace House at Newmarket (Charles’ getaway for horse racing and leisurely pursuits*), Amber discussed the political reasoning between the simplification of the male silhouette that occurred during the reign of Charles II and the lasting impact that led to this shape being lauded as the early origin of the three piece suit.
I must confess to having major outfit envy as Amber modelled her replica Charles II suit. I’m a huge fan of reproduction vintage fashion, as you know, so this is right up my street!
It was wonderful to hear Amber talk with such passion about how fashion can be dictated by politics and shape the identity of power. This suit represented a visible shift away from the decadence and Catholicism of the French court – the folds of fabric concealing our King’s reliance upon additional funds paid to him by the French King, in an agreement which could have shocked the English parliament into another rebellion – an English style for an English King.
You can read some brilliant stories about the best dressed people in history from Eve to Hilary in Amber’s latest book: The Fashion Chronicles: The Style Stories of History’s Best Dressed (RRP £20). Of course, I picked up a copy but have to say that this would make the perfect gift for anyone who loves fashion. I am pleased to confirm that David Bowie is in there.
Funnily enough, Chris and I entered into quite a lengthy conversation about the names that are missing from the book. I’m not going to tell you who Amber HAS listed amongst the best dressed in history but there were a couple that we decided must have been accidentally omitted; Humphrey Bogart and the Queen. I can just imagine the conversations that you will have over Christmas dinner if anyone in your home is lucky enough to unwrap this baby! If you would like to hear Amber explain her process of selection when drawing up this list, you will want to buy a ticket to HistFest when they go on sale TOMORROW. That’s 9am Tuesday 16th October 2018 for tickets. The event runs in London 7th-8th December 2018. Amber’s talk will sell out.
I wrote about my love of history and all about HistFest in an earlier Monday blog post: click here to catch up if you fancy more reading.
Historians like Amber Butchart are making history totally accessible, relevant, and interesting. This is a lifelong passion and having someone so fabulous to share this with you all is simply wonderful. If you had a boring teacher who kicked the love of history out of you at school, I sympathise but please do not let them continue to spoil this for you. Get yourself down to HistFest. Of course, I would love to bake a cake for Amber but I thought best to go with something more portable. I whipped up a batch of my Rum & Raisin Brownies, decorated with decadent edible damask Cake Lace and took them with me.
What else was I going to wear to this talk but a suit? Mine is from Collectif and I still have suit envy for Amber’s seventeenth century version!
*A favourite story about Charles II at Newmarket, which should give you some idea of his character. Charles took a hooky fortuneteller, who had appeared at court, to Newmarket. He gave the man several opportunities to prove his gifts by picking the winning horses at the races and, surprise surprise, none of the fortuneteller’s horses came in first. What amused the King was not so much that the fortuneteller was a phony because he had guessed that much already, but that the Duke of Monmouth (his illegitimate son) had fallen for it, bet on all of those horses, and lost a load of money.