The Dandy is Back

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Dandies, according to the most recent publication of L’Uomo Vogue, are back. In fact, the Italian men’s fashion bible is so confident of their return and their reinstatement at the upper end of fashionable society that they devoted nearly an entire 450 page issue to the dandy renaissance; Robert Downey Jr was pictured larking around in cravats, monocles and top hats, Matthias Schweighöfer in dandific and bizarre ensembles and positions at a verging-on-seedy outdoor location and even Zinedine Zidane managed to look genteel and overtly elegant in a velvet evening jacket with an enormous bow tie.

Dandies fell out of favour in the twentieth century. After the excess of the 1890s, the frightful and catastrophic Great War and the gradual rise of the simply-attired proletariat, sympathy and celebration of dandified men had begun to wane. King Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor post abdication, was the ‘last gasp’ of the Establishment dandy-world. A century after the demise of one of the most fashion conscious and great spending monarchs, George IV – a man who relied on the sartorial advice of the dandy of dandies, Beau Brummell – it seemed the world had had enough of a style that seemed at odds with the concerns and ideals of the future. Throughout much of the twentieth century, the dandy was an awkward and often ridiculed figure – a man who dwelled, unhappily or happily, in the underworld of the planet’s great cities.

The tenor of this collection of articles appeared to be a celebration of dandies; a coup of marketing that sold the concept to a wider, fashion-driven audience. Despite this apparent comprehensiveness, one might read all 450 (or make that 150 – advertisements you know…) pages of this bulky volume and not be any clearer about what a dandy actually is.

Some people regard flowery, effete gentlemen who adopt bright and extremely decorative clothing as dandies; others disagree and opt for the fastidious and immaculately attired. And others suggest that a modernity, through an acknowledgment of fashions and a revolutionary creativity, is the true mark of the dandy. None of them, and yet all of them, are correct.

Dandies are fortunately free from the constraints of pigeon-holing; an inelegant and unnecessary practice. Since dandyism relies on creativity and evolution, many would align with the maxim that to define is to limit. In any case, a ‘dandy’ desirous of being referred to as such is rarely anything other than a poseur.

The Green Carnation Dandy

The Green Carnation Dandy is a relic of the late Victorian era; an era of monumental wealth and near-Roman excess. Art is at the centre of this Dandy’s world. As Coward’s brilliant lyric from Bitter Sweet explains; “We believe in Art, Though we’re poles apart From the fools that are thrilled by Greuze. We like Beardsley and Green Chartreuse.” The Green Carnation Dandy is to some rather like a fop sartorially, but for the cultivation of his poetic language and refined speech. Anthony Blanche adopted waterfall pocket squares, extravagant bow ties and striped jackets in the manner of a Macaroni, but his beautiful manners and personal refinements suggested dandyism. Likewise Oscar Wilde, who would often dress in outrageous fashions suggesting an utter rejection of the Beau’s code of a dandy: that a well-dressed man should not be noticed. The magnificent flamboyance of this Dandy is utterly conspicuous; he is very likely to use words merely for pleasant effect.

The Immaculate Dandy

The one Dandy who follows the Beau’s lead rather more closely is the Immaculate. An apt description as he does appear, when fully dressed, utterly untouched and almost waxwork in manifestation. Hercule Poirot and Andrea Sperelli are excellent examples of this type; the very picture of an intimidating personification of symmetry. Exquisitely tied bows and ties, flawlessly starched shirts and shoes ‘shined to reflection.’ Empirically, he would always be considered, at the very least, well-dressed. Modern proponents of this style do tend to remain faithful to classic, and often archaic, items of dress. Art is certainly important to the Immaculate but fashion is usually irrelevant. Decoration is rather more controlled than that of the Green Carnation Dandy and usually more discreet.

The Modern Dandy

The Modern Dandy is very likely to be the personification of a smartly dressed follower of fashion; unlike the Immaculate, the Modern will consider and favour trends. Where the Green Carnation Dandy adopts a velvet jacket, buttonhole and silk cravat, and the Immaculate a starched shirt, bow tie and 1930’s suit, the Modern might opt for skinny denim with initialled slippers, and an unbuttoned Byronic white linen shirt with a smoking jacket. The juxtaposition of different styles, and different periods, is simply not an issue for the Modern. He likes taking risks and enjoys the success of his experimentation. Lapo Elkann, whose undeniable creativity has produced some fabulous and peculiar results, is the paradigm of this type.


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Winston Chesterfield is an amateur composer, fashion blogger, trained lawyer and style aficionado. He lives in Westminster, London and blogs at www.levraiwinston.com.

Comments

  1. Wearit.com says:

    Working in Silicon Valley in California, I’m personally appalled by the lack of concern for their personal appearance of many young billionaire CEOs. The Modern Dandy would be a perfect replacement for the Converses and jeans as they too enjoy “taking risks and enjoys the success of their experimentation” in business and would find it equally fascinating regarding their fashion choices.

  2. Nicola Linza says:

    “Wearit” those type of people, you mention, obviously did not know any better prior to working there; they are not going to know any better now. They are people who are similar to those who win a lottery. It is the same mentality and social position. There are some things money cannot buy a man, good family and breeding, and great personal style, are but a few of them.

    Nicola

  3. David Valenta says:

    I can see the first two categries. The last just looks, to me, like someone just screwing around. Making an effort to not make an effort.

  4. sara says:

    the dandy is back! i have been waiting for this moment all of my life! i am a loyal female reader (your daily chosen quotes are magical), and i commend you all for writing such worthwhile pieces about menswear.

  5. Thom says:

    The problem I have with this “Dandy” business is I don’t recall ever reading about any of the the old boys, who were themselves considered “Dandy,” by others, ever discussing it directly or themselves for that matter. The self-promotion aspect of it all today is a bit cartoon, and is a bit too much for my taste.

  6. Thom,

    I know what you are getting at. I actually touched on the subject in the article; “In any case, a ‘dandy’ desirous of being referred to as such is rarely anything other than a poseur.”
    There are those who are fixated with the idea of dandyism; and on whom decoration looks more like affectation. The writer Sebtastian Horsley for example, crudely refers to himself as a ‘dandy’ when many would consider he has the sartorial eye of an inebriated Elton John. I agree that the self-promotion, although modern promoters of dandyism claim it is a sign of the correct ‘dandyist’ arrogance, is wrong. I don’t think a man should dress in the morning, shine his links, knot his tie and turn around with open arms expecting, and even wanting, the world to cry out and applaud; ‘What a dandy!’

    The Vogue article was, as I stated, a celebration of dandies; fortunately, it did not stray too far into the realms of self-congratulation.
    Many people were mentioned who have never discussed themselves as dandies before, myself included. I have never written of the subject before, here or on my blog. My appearance on the webpages of Dandyism and in the Italian publication was a flattering surprise but one I do not take to heart. To crave such flattery and then bathe luxuriously in that flattery as one might sink easily and comfortably into a bed of roses is most certainly a terrible vanity and, as I stated, surely marks a man not as a worthwhile, albeit accidentally interesting being, but as a fake; a self-serving poseur.

    W

  7. Apologies for the typing error – ‘Sebtastian’ should be Sebastian. Although it actually sounds more interesting…

  8. At Dandyism.net, we’re big fans of Winston. Well done old boy!

    Cheers,

    M

  9. Nicola Linza says:

    Winston,
    This is an excellent job, well done my friend, you outlined the variations in superior fashion (no pun intended.) It is never easy for one to write about a subject one is associated with, while at the same time keeping an appropriate gentlemanly distance from it, while remaining neutral. You did just that, a great read.
    Regards,
    Nicola

  10. P K Randolph says:

    I was only saying to my manservant ‘Panhandle’ the other day that it is getting increasingly more difficult to obtain clothing worthy of a Dandy or better still a Fop!
    In an age where we have lost sight of Art we need all the more to adorn ourselves in resplendent attire and banish the ‘Big Black Smoke’ of city life with velvet, fine cufflinks and well made shoes!

    Yours

    Piers Khaki Randolph – Adventurer

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