Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Clotheshorse Dandy

George ‘Beau’ Brummell
The Clotheshorse Dandy

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by Sasha Soren
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The most well-known dandy of all, a stylish man about town in Regency England.

Unlike the dandies who followed, who were known for their sharp wit or artistic ability, in addition to their elegant dress sense, Brummell was chiefly a clotheshorse dandy. He was famous simply for his uncanny ability to be immaculately attired for any occasion.

Brummell is discussed in The Wits and Beaux of Society, Vol. II (1890), by Grace and Philip Wharton:

His morning toilette was a most elaborate affair. Never was Brummell guilty of dishabille. Like a true man of business, he devoted the best and earliest his profession, namely: dressing.

His dressing-room was a studio, in which he daily prepared that elaborate portrait of George Brummell which was to be exhibited for a few hours in the club rooms and drawing rooms of town, only to be taken to pieces again, and again made up for the evening.

His ablutions took no less than two whole hours! The body cleansed, the face had next to be brought up as near perfection as nature would allow. With a small looking-glass in one hand, and tweezers in the other, he carefully removed the tiniest hairs that he could discover on his cheeks or chin…

Then came the shirt, which was in his palmy days changed three times a day, and then in due course the great business of the cravat...the all-majestic white neck-tie, a foot in breadth...

The head was thrown back...the stiff white tie applied to the throat, and gradually wrinkled into half its actual breadth by the slow downward movement of the chin. When all was done, we can imagine that comfort was sacrificed to elegance...and that the sudden appearance of Venus herself could not have induced the individual to turn his head in a hurry...

Dukes and princes consulted him on the make of their coats, and discussed tailors with him with as much solemnity as divines might dispute on a mystery of religion. (end quote)

Brummell’s quest for sartorial perfection led him to design a strap to go under each shoe, which would keep his trousers from wrinkling.

But in images from the Regency era, one item of his ensemble is the most prominent -- lavish linen cravats, as mentioned above in a quote from the 1890 volume, Wits and Beaux.

One famous anecdote tells of Brummel’s put-upon valet leaving the dressing room with his arms piled high with linen cravats, noting to a waiting pal of Beau’s, ‘these are our failures.’

Brummell’s downfall was his love of gambling; eventually he lost his entire fortune and was forced to flee to France to avoid gambling debts. He never returned to England, and died in Caen, France in 1840.


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by Sasha Soren
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