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Ex-vintage clothing buyer uses her forensic knowledge of garments to help solve crimes in UK

"The fashion police" has taken on a new literal meaning in the English county of Surrey where a former vintage clothing buyer is using her forensic knowledge of garments to help solve crimes. 

The Guardian reports fashion historian Amber Butchart hosted a BBC programme exploring the lives of historical figures through the clothes they wore and published books on fashion in film and nautical style.

Dr Karl Harrison, one of the UK’s most experienced forensic archaeologists, heard her on radio last year and was struck by her explanation of what we communicate through clothing.

"Forensic science has become so focused on DNA. I’m trying to retain the importance of looking at stuff," Dr Harrison said. 

He asked Ms Butchart if she would be interested in helping him on the case of a man's body found in a field, and she accepted her first police job.

By dating the clothes, she was able to identify the man from a list of missing people.

Ms Butchart, who's title is consultant forensic garment analyst, has recently has been training investigators in what to look for at crime scenes and how to record it, how to recognise fastenings and fabric in order to date garments, and teaching terminology of non-western dress.

In another case, Dr Harrison called Ms Butchart when the children of an elderly deceased woman opened a drawer in her home and found the body of a baby, wrapped in clothes.

Ms Butchart said she used the same skills she developed in her former role as a buyer for a vintage clothes shop, to date the clothing.

"Heavy polyester, homemade garments with unfinished seams. There was a bullet bra, which I could broadly identify as being from the 1960s, then I looked at the label, researched the company history, the advertising of the manufacturer…" She was able to date the small body "with a certain level of confidence".

Underwear is a good example of how she applies her expertise. 

"It dates so well. Foundation garments are worn so close to the body, for one thing, and an offender discarding a body often leaves the underwear on," Ms Butchart told the Guardian.

And Ms Butchart said retailer Marks and Spencer has a great archive of underwear fashion which is really helpful in her forensic work.

Forensics officer at crime scene (file picture).
Forensics officer at crime scene (file picture). Source: istock.com