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One - Fashioning the Dandy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 February 2024

Olga Vainshtein
Affiliation:
Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow
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Summary

Apollos in Double-Breasted Coats

Tracing the roots of the classic men's suit, we inevitably find ourselves returning to early nineteenth-century England. The strict canon of male elegance developed by English dandies still retains much of its influence today; yet in those times, their style was seen as a radical break with tradition. What were the striking differences that distinguished the new canon of dandyism from the tastes of the previous era?

Delving into this intriguing matter, we may find ourselves revisiting the history of European costume. The dandy appeared as a fashion type from the mid-1790s in England. The nearest ancestors of the Dandy were the British Beaux and Macaroni of the eighteenth-century, preferring vibrant colours and sparkling fabrics (Figure 2). The precursor to dandy style is late seventeenth-century male dress: around that time, the buttoned justacorps overcoat emerged as a universal element of male clothing (in French, its name ‘surtout’ literally means ‘over everything’). This was usually worn with short full trousers, stockings, and a long vest. Habitually half-buttoned, the vest concealed the wearer's waist. The shirts with their soft collars allowed for the use of neckerchiefs, which would later be followed by ties. All this together, justacorps, vest, shirt, tie, and trousers, formed the basic model of male dress.

The most striking and artificial-looking elements in late seventeenth – early eighteenth-century male costume remained, of course, the wigs and heels, remnants of the Rococo era. Overall, the most conservative aspect of contemporary men’s fashion was perhaps the pear-shaped silhouette itself: decidedly at odds with later trends, it remained in vogue until 1780. Narrow across the shoulders, justacorps were frequently made without collars, as these would inevitably be covered in powder and pomade from wigs. At the same time, the lower half of the body was exaggerated by the full, spreading tails of the justacorps, which sometimes included whalebone rods sewn into them to preserve their shape.

The focal point of the male silhouette was thus inevitably the stomach, protruding above the low-cut trouser waist. The boundary between short, full trouser leg and stocking, decorated as it often was with a bow or buckle, split the leg visually in two, making even tall gentlemen appear shorter. The resulting effect was a pear-shaped outline, appearing almost to encourage plumpness in the stomach area, much to the satisfaction of the portlier gentlemen.

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Fashioning the Dandy
Style and Manners
, pp. 7 - 26
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2023

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