The Dandy

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THE DANDY

Dandy is a name for a man who pays great attention to dress and fashion and often dresses with a flamboyant style. The term was first used in the late eighteenth century, but became better defined in the early nineteenth century. At first, "dandy" referred to a group of trendsetting young aristocrats in England. Other names for dandies include beaus, mashers, macaronis, fops, and exquisites. Although first used to refer to a flamboyant dresser, by the nineteenth century a dandy was a man who dressed with a careful stylishness. In the twenty-first century the term "dandy" is still used to refer to either a fastidious or a flamboyant dresser.

Dandyism had its roots in the Macaroni Club formed in London, England, in the 1760s by a group of rich young Englishmen who had just returned from a tour of Italy. The Macaronis championed elaborate and exaggerated styles of dress. They loaded themselves down with layer after layer of lace ruffles and gold embroidery and wore knee buckles, striped stockings, and shoes with bright red heels. Some of them sported wigs that were at least a foot high, topped by a tricorne, or three-cornered, hat. In fact, the lyric from the famous American patriotic song "Yankee Doodle": "Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni," refers to these early dandy fashions.

Accessories were critical to the dandy's style. The typical dandy carried a long gold-knobbed, tasseled walking stick and was never seen in public without his bejeweled snuff box, in which he carried chewing tobacco. To ward off bad odors he may have carried an artificial nosegay, a small bunch of flowers, or worn powder or perfume. Many dandies brandished swords with diamond handles and hung two fobs, or pocket watches, from their elegantly tailored waistcoats. These early dandies, many of whom adopted the name "Beau," developed a reputation for grace and coolness. Before long, dandy styles popularized by the English macaronis began migrating to the European continent. In France the Incroyables (the Unbelievables) of the 1790s combined fashionable fantasy garments and English country clothes.

The most famous dandy of all, and the man who truly changed the course of men's fashion, was George Bryan "Beau" Brummell (17781840). The son of an English butler who was educated at Oxford, a prestigious university in England, Brummell resisted some of the more flamboyant trends of his day. He dressed simply and plainly, preferring wool and cotton fabrics, carefully tailored jackets, and ankle length, loose-fitting trousers in dark or neutral colors worn with white shirts. A typical outfit for Brummell consisted of a blue woolen tailcoat with brass buttons, buckskin colored pantaloons (loose-fitting trousers), and immaculately polished boots. And he didn't wear a wig or makeup. The only item of elaborate clothing he wore was his necktiea large bow-tied cravat, a scarf tied around the neck.

Brummell's contribution to fashion was to set a new standard of elegance and ideal of perfection in male dress. He stressed the importance of neatness and cleanliness, as well as refinement and restraint. Brummell took up to five hours to dress every day, though his goal was to make it appear as though he had not. He was one of the first to take regular baths (a custom which was catching on quickly in nineteenth-century Europe), priding himself on the fact that he did not need to wear perfume. It was said that he had three separate hairdressers: one for his forelock, or bangs, one for the hair at the back of his head, and one for his sideburns. He sent his shirts out of town to be washed because he didn't think London laundresses could bleach them white enough.

Beau Brummell's fame and influence long outlived him. Through his friendship with the future British king George IV (17621830), he left a lasting mark on English fashion. Though the dandies are long gone, and often mocked in comedies about the period for their excessive manner of dress, men in the West continue to wear trousers and somber colors and to dress themselves in the elegant style set by these fashion pioneers.