‘Margate migrater’, fashion historian, author and broadcaster, Amber Butchart, swapped city life for seaside living. We caught up with Amber to discuss moving to Margate, vetting vintage and the pandemics' lasting impact on the fashion industry.

“Margate was the perfect option! I grew up by the seaside and I’ve always loved seaside towns. I even wrote a book about nautical style!”

The fashionable red-head is often seen gracing our TV screens and lecture halls; most recently providing our lockdown entertainment with her bitesize TV show,  Dirty Laundry. A fountain of fashionable knowledge, Amber is a real-life dress-detective. Delving into the secrets of our sartorial past, Amber wittily places the semiotics of style into a wider culture; political and social sphere.

Amber Butchart by Fanni Williams

Following 20 years of London living, Amber’s love of seaside towns saw her relocate to Margate. With London’s ever competitive real estate market, Property Wire have stated that two thirds of renters are considering leaving the capital for the coast. Elevated by the ongoing ‘work from home mantra’, it is no surprise people are yearning for some fresh seaside air with an appealing, affordable price tag. Often noted as the ‘Original Seaside’, Margate’s holiday-town charm, sandy beaches and tempting retro shops, have encouraged an influx of relocators. 
Margate is more than just a sunny seaside town. Enriched with a colourful cultural heritage, there is a retro feel to this harbour town. Somewhat a vintage treasure trove, Margate’s old town has followed in the footsteps of other coastal towns such as Brighton, and is home to many vintage shops and stylish second hand stores. Meeting Amber, Margate seems a match made in heaven. 

“Researching dress at the seaside is one of my specialties! In this country, we have a big love for the ‘holiday by the sea’ aesthetic. I’ve always loved the eccentricity you can get at the seaside when people are on holiday and feel free to be a bit more wild than they would be at home.”

Not many know that Margate has been a fashionable space since the 18th Century. Amber reveals how wealthy people would often visit seaside towns such as Margate for the health benefits of sea bathing, and in turn, bringing their opulent, fashionable wardrobes with them. Tracing the evolution of style to our seafaring past, Amber’s book Nautical Chic, is the first and only book to look at the history of high fashion on the high seas. 
Embracing its vintage vibes and retro aesthetic, it is not surprising Margate is climbing the ladder of stylish seaside destinations. The coveted ‘Old Town’ and high street are littered with stylish vintage shops and second hand stores; from Peony Vintage and Madam Popoff, to WerkHaus and Handsome Freaks. Known for rocking her own eclectic style, or as she describes it “Pat Butcher meets art teacher in Ghost World”,  we were pleased to hear that Margate’s retro fashion stores do certainly not disappoint!

Amber's quirky style is somewhat compared to Pat Butcher and the art teacher from GhostWorld

When discussing the fashion industry, we had to take note of how the unprecedented pandemic exposed the dark underside of the fast fashion industry. Whilst both the world and fashion sector are in disarray; sustainability has become a hot topic. Online fashion giants are accused of fuelling the fast fashion epidemic in the promise of stylish items with ever cheaper price tags. As lockdown forced an unwelcome  halt to our nights out, many companies faced the prospect of people reducing their clothing shop hauls. Numerous fast fashion brands pivoted to promote hyped-up versions of self-care during lockdown, encouraging us all to continue our usual spending patterns.

“Because of the dominance of fast fashion, we have lost all sense of the value of clothing, of the labour that goes in to making them. So my work [as a fashion historian] definitely helps to understand how unsustainable the current system is.”

Whether you reduce, re-use or recycle;  is the future of the industry stepping away from the conveyor belt of fast fashion? Talking to the previous head buyer of vintage megastore, Beyond Retro, we were keen to discuss thrifting and the misconceptions with second hand shopping. 
For those willing to kick the habit and break their toxic relationship with fast fashion, there are many more who are oblivious to the industry’s murky underworld. The charitable organisation Oxfam, found that in 2019, 52% of UK adults had no idea the fashion industry was damaging to the planet. It is reported that an estimated 300,000 tonnes of used clothing ends up in UK landfill every year. As many consumers gradually aim to curb their fast fashion shopping habits, the stigma associated with thrifting is slowly fading. With nearly 4000 stores specialising in selling second hand goods in the UK, the past two years has seen a notable increase in sales, a 17.6% rise in value.

“[Second hand shopping] is often encouraged now as a more sustainable option, and researchers are suggesting that within a decade the resale market will outstrip fast fashion.”

Amber Butchart’s recent Radio 4 documentary, From Rags to Riches, delves deeper into the rise of vintage fashion and the global implications of the second hand trade.
The self titled ‘charity shop scavenger’ didn’t initially form a deep love for fashion, instead discovering an appreciation of garments themselves. From treasure hunts and scouring for secondhand clothes, to watching old classic films with her mum; Amber acknowledged the evolution of fashion. Acquiring numerous accolades: a regular speaker at cultural hotspots such as the Tate and V&A, a member of the Royal Historical Society, a fellow researcher at London College of Fashion, successful author and historian on the BBC’s beloved, Great British Sewing Bee; Amber has fast become a familiar face on the British fashion circuit.

Amber Butchart for a Stitch in Time

2020 will no doubt change the course of fashion forever. The full extent to the ramifications of Covid’s impact on the creative industries remains unclear. Yet Amber has not let this hold her back. The vintage veteran is sharing her extensive knowledge with the world and spent lockdown making her bitesize TV show;  Dirty Laundry. Once photographed for Vogue as ‘a girl with great British style’; Amber Butchart emulates eco-savvy second hand shopping, without sacrificing style.

“For me it’s all about secondhand – charity shops, car boot sales, vintage stores. It’s always been my favourite way to shop.”

Amber is currently working on a new  exhibition for the Fashion and Textile Museum, as well as a podcast. To keep up with Amber Butchart’s latest projects and stylish anecdotes, follow her on Instagram @amberbutchart
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