Beau Brummell was the early incarnation of “the celebrity”, a man chiefly famous for being famous—in his case, as a witty clothes-horse. Mr Brummell invented the English style, which even today infiltrates the cut and detail of every suit whether it’s hand-tailored on Savile Row or industrially manufactured in some far-flung factory in Asia. He brought about a democracy of dress for men (1). His genius was to adapt the clothing worn by the horse riding nobility into the perfect garments for the most elegant townie. He was the model dandy in British society.
In 1836 Thomas Carlyle wrote
“A Dandy is a clothes-wearing Man, a Man whose trade, office and existence consists in the wearing of Clothes. Every faculty of his soul, spirit, purse, and person is heroically consecrated to this one object, the wearing of clothes wisely and well: so that the others dress to live, he lives to dress”.(2)
Of course, there was more to Mr Brummell than just his clothes – his temperament and attitude were as important as his appearance. Two hundred years after Mr Brummell’s heyday, Mr Harry Mundy, a 21st-century dandy, says that
“Being a dandy is not just about dress. It affects everything – what you read, your speech, the way you deal with individuals. Dandies are gentlemen – a gentleman can come from any walk of life –utterly charming and people enjoy being around them.” (3)
In the 21st century dandyism transcends class, race and national borders. Even the style varies greatly. Some dandies like to wear bespoke suits and custom made shoes and others are happy to pair vintage finds with H&M clothes. Dandies aren’t a subculture, like punks or goths or metal heads, as they aren’t united by something like common music tastes or politics. They all try to be fiercely individual and go about it in their own way.
Dandies have existed for hundreds of years but the reasons have changed. Today’s dandies may be reacting to what is happening today in regards to dress and manners of today which is more casual than ever. Even as dandyism has received newfound attention in popular culture, many of the dandies emphasize their own individuality over group solidarity.
(1) Berry, J 2014, Week 6 Menswear PowerPoint, 2432QCA Contemporary Fashion, Griffith University, Queensland College of Art.
(2) Carlyle, T 1836, “The Dandiacal Body”, in Sartor Resartus
(3) Knox J, The Modern Dandy http://www.mrporter.com/journal/journal_issue147/2?cm_mmc=Tumblr-_-TheJournal-_-ThePortfolio-_-TheModernDandy#1 viewed 19th September 2014