YES! I am so glad that I can finally blog about fashion history. Absolute History has posted the series A Stitch in Time with Amber Butchart. In this series, she uses historical portraits to recreate the clothes the people were wearing.
Amber Butchart explores the life of King Charles II and his impact on Royal Fashion. The fashion she is having recreated is the three-piece suit in a portrait of him and his gardener. King Charles II was the Restoration King and used fashion to consolidate his power. King Charles had a rival in his cousin King Louis of France and he wanted to use fashion to one-up his cousin as well.
Butchart talks with historical tailor Ninya Mikhaila to carefully examine the portrait and talk about the suit in fashion. Although the King was dressed simply, his clothing was still expensive. The cloth could change colors. The ribbons on his britches required yards of silk. One thing King Charles did was encourage the use of English cloth. Even though it was a simple suit, it was an expensive piece of fashion.
The Victoria and Albert Museum has an ornate outfit from Charles II. When he needed to dress for ceremonial purposes he went all out. This outfit was completely different from what was portrayed in the portrait. Butchart talks about how this outfit showed King Charles II as a walking contradiction. However, the coat, a utilitarian garment, was declared as court dress and so would need to be blinged up.
Ninya starts to work on putting the patterns on the cloth. Although he was King, it was waste not, want not. The clothing was made piecemeal, using as much of the material as possible. She talks about the history of tailors and tailoring. As a woman, she would not be allowed to work in a tailor’s shop. Then she sews the pieces to complete the pieces with linen thread. The King would have thought of nothing to have those extra seems in the clothing.
When King Charles was painted, he was dressed in ceremonial outfits, but in public, he was dressed more simply. He had to find the balance between Kingship and extravagance. He had to distance himself from his father. King Charles II dressed simply day to day, only on ceremonial he would dress up. However, as a king, he was a more relatable man. Despite this, the public still thought the court extravagant because the court had French taste. King Charles II invented the vest and was credited with inventing the three-piece suit. This changed the male profile. Word was received that the King of France had his servants dress in vests.
Next, Amber returns to the historical tailor shop and learns who would be making the suit. She works on making buttonholes. She is finding sewing the buttonhole a bit of a challenge. This is why tailors had apprenticeships of seven years. To make a suit would take hours of labor.
After this, Amber explores the details of King Charles’ wardrobe and looks at his account books. The first expenses were for his coronation robe and it was about the image of the king. He ordered 30-40 new suits a year. He wore muted colors because he could not be seen as an extravagant king. The vest makes its first appearance in the account books and it would become part of English fashion.
So how successful are Ninya and her team will be when recreating this suit? What will Amber say when she wears the outfit? Tune into this episode to find out!
A Stich in Time is an awesome series to show in a history class as well as a home economics class! It has elements of experimental history, sewing, and royal history.
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