What can the clothes of the dead teach us about the lives of the living?
International dress historian, curator and forensic garment analyst Amber Butchart has spent two decades investigating old clothes and their stories, from working as the buyer for an international vintage clothing company to broadcasting for the BBC.
She currently works with crime scene investigators in the United Kingdom on cases that require examination and investigation of clothing and textiles. She specializes in the cultural and political history of textiles and dress.
On Monday, April 17, at 3:05 p.m., Butchart will give a virtual illustrated talk, “Investigating Old Clothes from the Rag Trade to the Lab,” to the Women in Ancient Rome class taught by Stacie Raucci, the Frank Bailey Professor of Classics and department chair.
The event will be held in Olin Center Room 115 and is open to the campus community.
“Despite the title of my course, Amber won’t be talking about anything ancient,” Raucci said. “She will consider the power of old clothes in storytelling across literature and myth, the history of secondhand style and the potential of fashion as a tool for forensic science.”
The tie-in with her teaching, Raucci said, “is that we do case studies in which we try to use the research tools at our disposal to recover the lives of ancient women about whom we have limited information, such as from one inscription.
“My hope is that Amber’s work will empower students to find interdisciplinary lenses for their own work, to see how you can bring your knowledge in one area to solve problems in another and to think about research approaches.”
Butchart is the author of five books on the history and culture of clothing, and also has written for The Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, Financial Times and BBC Culture. She is a former Research Fellow at the University of the Arts London, and teaches cultural and historical studies at London College of Fashion.
Raucci came to know her through a Union connection. Butchart is a childhood friend of Greg Deacon, husband of Dean of Studies Michelle Osborn. “I mentioned that I was working on a project involving ancient inspirations on modern fashion design, and they said I have to meet Amber,” Raucci recounted.
When Raucci was in London a few years ago, she had the opportunity to talk with Butchart, and later, during the pandemic, she took one of her online courses, The Evolution of Style.
“She is an inspiring speaker,” Raucci said, “and I know that our students will appreciate her innovative and interdisciplinary work.”