[Pierre Seriziat — Dandyism in the last few generations has had the implication of overdress, and for caring more about fashion than one cares for other, more serious matters. Yes, the word is being reclaimed by the modern generation, but now it seems to mostly mean being a little showy and outspoken with tweeds and plaids. Authentic Dandyism, however, is very different, and it’s something we here value much more than it’s looser definition of dressing to get noticed for being well-dressed.
To start with, we need to discuss first the Macaronis. The Macaronis were the very epitome of Baroque overindulgence: White powdered faces with crescent moon moles, large wigs, colorful frock coats and waistcoats and tons of lace pouring out every opening. They were gender neutral, they were foppish, and one imagines they were always giggling into handkerchiefs.
Enter into this world a man named George Brummell (1778 – 1840.) In the words of Bill Bryson, Brummell “dressed better than anyone ever had before. Not more colorfully or extravagantly, but simply with more care.”
He was only a slightly-privledeged man who didn’t have much influence in life, except he happened to be in the Prince of Wale’s Regiment. The two became friends, and he greatly influenced the Prince’s fashion, which in turn influenced all of England. For some years, an increasingly large group of gentleman and nobility would come to watch Brummell dress. They were amazed he bathed every day (remember, these were different times.) They stood silent as he would leave cravat after cravat lying on the floor when they didn’t tie with a perfect crease-less knot. He sometimes took five hours to get ready to walk out the door. His servants polished his boots with champagne. But what was truly inspiring about Brommell was the fashion choices he made.
In contrast to the bright colors of the Macaroni style of dress, Brummell confined his outfits to mostly white, buff, and blue-black. He happily discarded patterns, and instead focused on incredible tailoring and fit, one of the most important aspects to modern day men’s fashion. He made his coats with wider shoulders and fitted torsos, which showed off his military physique much better than the popular loose frock coats. He had his coats cut away in the front, a military-inspired style that made riding horseback easier, and wore skin tight trousers (once again inspired by military unifroms) rather than the popular looser fitting breeches. With its refined lines and understated sophistication, Dandyism became the fashion of country gentleman, and soon, overtook English nobility all together. By the time Jane Austen wrote her famous novels, all of her leading male characters were dandies.
(By the way, one can imagine what cut-away-coat and skin-tight breeches meant in an age with no underwear, and, needless to say, you are right in assuming these men made quite an impression.)
Overall, Brummell was a masculine figure of refinement and military athleticism who cared very deeply about how well he was dressed, and cared very deeply that he not be overdressed. And his fashion choices greatly showed all of that. Thus, the bases for our grand theme here at Fine & Dandy.
Further reading: “The Dressing Room” chapter of Bill Bryson’s At Home.]