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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 February 2024

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

When we speak of dandies, what images go through our minds? In our imagination, the dandy is an elegant man, impeccably dressed, perhaps wearing a dinner jacket and bow tie. He smokes a smart pipe, his unhurried gestures are languorous, lazy. His smile is condescending. What is it about dandies that instantly captures our attention? To this day, the dandies possess in our eyes a mysterious charisma; they are often seen as eccentric aesthetes, sharp dressers, capable of the most brazen, unexpected actions.

Who are the dandies? Larousse dictionary offers the following definition: A dandy is ‘a man who affects supreme elegance in his toilet, his manners, and his tastes’. Yet is dandyism really but an elegant pose? Nothing but a fashionable gesture, a chic lifestyle? The nineteenth-century dictionary compiled by Felix Toll provides a less glamorous, yet more specific definition. A dandy, it suggests, is a man ‘always dressed according to the latest fashion, of high birth, possessing sufficient income, and good taste’. Dandies, unsurprisingly, have long been associated with good taste and good breeding. A great many of them, indeed, were of noble birth: recall Count d’Orsay, Count Robert de Montesquiou, the Duke of Windsor. Yet others, originally, were of bourgeois background, including the founder of the tradition Beau Brummell.

Besides always being smartly dressed, dandies are famous for their manners conforming to a special code of conduct, and their costume is merely part of a bigger, well-structured system. So, let us formulate a working definition of the dandy as a fashionable male who achieves social influence by distinctive elegance in dress and sophisticated self-presentation.

In my research, I focused on fashion, literature and lifestyle – areas which, upon closer study, appear more interconnected than one might suspect, and detailed analysis reveals a multitude of unexpected links. On this entrancing journey, we will be concerned not only with fashion but also with many other aspects of everyday life, such as corporeality and hygiene, codes of conduct, practical jokes, high society scandals, notions of charisma and vulgarity. We will probe the origins of the principle of slowness and examine the roots of the dandy minimalist aesthetic. Our particular attention will go to contemporary dandyism, the tailors of Savile Row, and to the Sapeurs of Africa.

Where will we source our knowledge, to find reliable accounts of this appealing, yet also ephemeral world?

Type
Chapter
Information
Fashioning the Dandy
Style and Manners
, pp. 1 - 6
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2023

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