Book Review: Nautical Chic by Amber Jane Butchart

5:45 PM

Nautical Chic
by Amber Jane Butchart
Abrams (USA); Thames & Hudson Ltd. (UK)

"It is France, the United States, and Britain whose naval uniforms and maritime clothing have had a lasting legacy around the globe. From tailoring to sportswear, and from haute couture to the high street, these countries are the key producers and exporters of nautical style. Intertwined with politics, imperialism, war, leisure, trade and sport, marine passions and seafaring endeavours have made the journey from lifeblood to lifestyle."
~ Amber Jane Butchart

Nautical Chic is the second book by fashion historian Amber Jane Butchart and well worth looking at. Featuring nearly 200 large images and plenty of interesting historical tidbits, the book tracks the history of the influence of nautical trends on fashion. From the coiffure à la Belle Poule to Captain Hook to all your favorite designers such as Coco Chanel, Vivienne Westwood, and Alexander McQueen, this book covers everything you ever wanted to know about how the seafaring have permeated our fashion vocabulary. As the press release states, "Nautical style has been an enduring mainstay of the fashion world, and Nautical Chic is a lavish celebration of its iconic looks and perennial popularity, tracing the history of its trends and impact on the clothes we love."

The book is divided into five chapters, each focusing on a different element of nautical heritage: "The Officer", "The Sailor", "The Fisherman", "The Sportsman," and "The Pirate". Each chapter is accompanied by several full page images of contemporary fashion as well as historic garments and illustrations, allowing the reader to closely examine the details of each. The images are a great strength of this text, creating a vibrant and eye-catching display. As one who is often frustrated with minimal, small images in fashion history texts, I was very pleased to be able truly see what the author was discussing and immerse myself in the subject. The text is equally informative, condensing an enormous amount of information into easily digestible sections that provide a rich overview of nautical style throughout history. Nautical Chic is not plagued by academic-speak and could be easily enjoyed by both experts and those with a passing interest in fashion history. My only criticism is that I want more! More text! More images! Give me 200 more pages please!

As a lifelong fan of pirates, the chapter on styles derived from the swashbuckling antiheros was particularly enjoyable. As the chapter title page says,

"Romance and adventure on the high seas are embodied by the Pirate. Designers with a penchant for historical detail and the spirit of rebellion, from McLaren and Westwood to Galliano and de Castelbajac, are drawn to his excess. Embodying aristocratic 17th-century opulence, as well as shipwrecked stripes and rags, the Pirate's style is drawn as much from fiction as from fact: a theatrical villain recast as a swashbuckling hero."

The chapter covers a large variety of styles and ideas associated with the pirate, from a brief history of the real-life Golden Age of Piracy in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries to the influence of popular pirate films on fashion to the postmodern reinterpretations of pirates from designers Malcom McClaren and Vivienne Westwood. Archetypal pirate accouterments such as tattoos, peg legs, and the Jolly Roger are also explored. For instance, the short section titled "Eye Patches and Parrots" discusses the historical basis for such accessories before mentioning how they have made their way to the high fashion runway in the collections of Gaultier and de Castelbajac.

There are not many books on nautical style, so this book is definitely a must-have for those with a love of stripes, epaulettes, fashion, and history!

With thanks to Abrams for the review copy of this book.

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