an 18th Century gentleman
George Brummel- the first Dandy and his revolution in elegance
A Victorian Dandy
Fred Astaire: a 20th Century Dandy
Regis Philbin: a possible 21st Century Dandy
Dandyism still lives: Our own Jeffrey ready for the Gatsby picnic.
What is Dandyism?
A question that is frequently asked, and for which incorrect answers are frequently given.
a Dandy is in short a refined, elegant man. So what makes him different form any other well dressed man? Was Oscar Wilde a Dandy? Was Fred Astaire a Dandy? Let take a look.
The history of male refinement is indeed long, and many ages of man boast significant male costume designed to either impress, flatter, or frighten. So how does the Dandy fit into all of this?
Well, in order to explain this, we need to look more closely at its history. Dandyism was born "officially" in the early 1800's. At this time there was a lot of change going on politically [the French had recently made their king a bit shorter- by a head], and socially as England was quickly surpassing France as the major cultural influence in Europe and America. What happened in short was this. A young man whose name was George Bryan Brummel, the son of a undersecretary made friends with the Prince Regent, and became one of the most influential, and even powerful men in the nation, not by his birthright, or education, or military prowess, or scholastic accomplishment...but by being well dressed.
George made quite an impression on English society, and caused many powerful people to abandon their gaudy Baroque-ish outfits and adopt Mr. Brummel's clean, elegant, simple toned manner of dressing. George Brummel's perfection of style gained him access to the highest of English society: the Dandy was born. The Dandy was a gentleman first, any other title HAD to come second. The fact that he was of noble blood of any rank, whose job had traditionally been to dress well as a sign of social standing, could be an obstacle to being a Dandy if he relied on his title, and not his style. Thus any gentleman through a command of the dress and manners of good society, could gain access to the social influence of the aristocracy. Thus, an aristocrat could only be a Dandy if his pride was his appearance and manners, not this title. Nor could a nobleman of any rank be a Dandy if he dropped in his title in conversation in order to impress, or took more pride in his heritage than his style. If ever he relied on his title, he lost his Dandyhood. This new standard had a dramatic effect on the English landscape, and wasn't long before heading across the channel to France. We'll stop with the history, and explain a bit more about the characteristics.
A Dandy pursed elegance, it was his ultimate and unique goal. Everything he did was designed to make his social presentation more elegant, thus great care had to be taken not to appear too extravagant in his dress, and of course never slovenly. A Dandy was also not a man who wares flamboyant clothing. His outfits are designed to please and add elegance and swagger to his presentation; not make him stand out a mile away, so Oscar Wilde was NOT a Dandy- in the strict definition of the term.
This trend of using elegant dress to influence people, while not being a novel one, nevertheless was an important one, because as there were Macaronis, Hell rakes, Fops, and other sorts of fancy figures in the history of Europe and America, they never were able to cross that line into real social power unless they had been born there. The Dandy was the first. This meant that as the 19th Century progressed, it was not a narrow aristocracy of birth that ran society, but a collection of well dressed, well mannered gentlemen who all obeyed the same set of rules, and for whom- any of whom, regardless of birth, to break the rules of etiquette, meant banishment form society. Influence and power was based around being well bred, not of noble birth.
This trend would continue even as collars fell and ties got thinner, and top hats shrank and were replaced by homburgs and fedoras. Even after gloves and walking sticks ceased to be standard fair, manners and elegance continued to be the standard for good society, and dropping a title of nobility meant less and less.
So in resume, a Dandy is a man whose pursuit of elegance, in matters of dress, manners, and speech gains him a respect that nothing else can give.