The 2018 BBC series is presented by fashion historian Amber Butchart who examines figures from the past through the clothes they chose to wear in their portraits or effigies, including Marie Antoinette and King Charles II. Butchart looks for clues within the portraits, outlining the significance of the sitter and what the costume reveals about that person and the times in which they lived. Working alongside Amber is historical costumier Ninya Mikhaila who, together with her team, recreates the garments for Amber using the tailoring techniques of the given period.
A look at the Restoration king, Charles II, and how he used fashion as propaganda with an outfit that foreshadowed the three piece suit.
In each episode Amber looked at what these items of clothing tell us about the people who wore them and the historical time periods they came from. Now showing on BBC 4, the new series A Stitch in Time presented by fashion historian Amber Butchart takes us on an eye-opening journey through clothing worn by historical figures in politically significant paintings. Historical tailor Ninya Mikhaila and her team recreate the outfits using the methods that would have been employed at each point in history, transporting us to a bygone world of fashion.
We are also invited to explore some of the garments stored in the V&A’s collection of over 75,000 objects, giving us insight into how the fabrics appear in the paintings, and how they would have felt to the wearer. Butchart herself introduces each episode by positing that 'clothes are the ultimate form of visual communication – by looking at the way people dress we can learn not only about them as individuals, but about the society they lived in… in the words of Louis XIV, I believe that fashion is the mirror of history.'
The most frequently discussed innovation in dress that Charles II has been associated with was his decision to reject French fashion and to create a specifically English style – the vest – a fashion that Charles II stated he would ‘never alter. Pepys described how the king adopted this style in 1666 when he noted in his diary on 17 October that ‘The Court is all full of vests ; only, my Lord St. Albans not pinked, but plain black – and they say the King says the pinking upon white makes them look too much like magpyes, and therefore hath bespoke one of plain velvet’. Pinking comprised small cuts or holes, often in geometric patterns, cut in the top fabric of outer garments. More detail was supplied by the writer and diarist John Evelyn (1620–1706) who noted on 18 October : https://journals.openedition.org/apparences/1320
October 7 1666 Charles issued a declaration that his court would no longer wear ‘French fashions’. Instead, it would adopt what was known at the time as the Persian vest. A long waistcoat to be worn with a knee-length coat and similar-length shirt, it was made of English wool, not French silk. The emphasis was on cloth and cut, not ruffles and accessories.
Indeed, you could argue that the English suiting tradition began here – concentrating on silhouette and quality of wool rather than color or decoration – systematised by the plain propriety of Beau Brummel a century later.
The outfit was finished off with a sash, stockings and buckled shoes. Over time the waistcoat became shorter and shorter, until by around 1790 it reached the length we recognise today. It had been sleeveless since the 1750s.
The first version was modelled by the King himself outside Westminster Hall and, as described by diarist Samuel Pepys, was “of black cloth and pinked with white silk under it”.
Over time it became an excuse for extravagance, with some in the 18th century wearing them with up to 20 buttons and in patterns of spots, stripes and flora. But the version worn by Beau, in white or black is the one known to us today as part of a three-piece suit.