Book review: Nautical Chic by Amber Jane Butchart


Fashion designer Coco Chanel with Duke Laurino of Rome on beach at the Lido Image courtesy Time Life Pictures/Pictures Inc./The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Image Breton stripes, chunky knits, cropped military jackets: the tropes of clothes inspired by life on the high sea are fashion perennials, never more so than now, when summer is about to hit.

Amber Jane Butchart’s newly published Nautical Chic is the first and currently only book to celebrate the ways nautical fashion has infiltrated the catwalks and high street.

Each chapter is devoted to an iconic maritime figure: ‘The Sailor’ explores the potential for sex and kitsch of the sea’s hardest worker; ’The Sportsman’ covers classic All-Americana; ‘The Officer’ shows how epaulettes, brass buttons and braiding came to be catwalk staples.

‘The Fisherman’ examines the way blue-and-white stripes became the lingua franca of style arbiters as diverse as Coco Chanel, Pablo Picasso, Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot and Andy Warhol. The last chapter, ’The Pirate’, draws links between Hook, Ant, Westwood and McQueen and the swarthy pock-marked reality.

Fashion historian Butchart (read my interview with her here) weaves together politics, imperialism, war, leisure, trade, sport and seafaring adventure to tell the stories of garments – the duffle coat, the yellow fisherman’s macintosh, the Breton shirt - loaded with historical and cultural significance. Expect to learn almost as much about naval history and literature as about the clothes they inspired.

This is a wonderful thing, stepping back from the idea that fashion is an isolated entity, divorced from real life, to one that recognises its place within history and culture. So it is, in the opening paragraphs, that we learn that the 1995 ship hat designed by Philip Treacy and made iconic by the late Isabella Blow was inspired by the a similar hat from the late 1770s, the coiffure à la Belle Poule - in turn inspired by the great naval war between France and Britain.

You’ll never see your Breton stripes in the same way again …

Nautical Chic. By Amber Jane Butchart. Published by Thames & Hudson on March 30th at £24.95.

Chic casual designs by Jacques Fath, Pierre Balmain, Carven and Jean Patou, illustrated by Pierre Mourgue, 1947 © Pierre Mourgue

Junya Watanabe spring/summer 2011  © Anthea Simms

Mary Quant Fashion in 1967: The Models Murph And Jackie presenting Styles By Mary Quant At The Carlton Hotel Image courtesy Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Le négligé galant ornés de la coéffure à la Belle-Poule, 1778. 
Image Courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

Nautical Chic by Amber Jane Butchart