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Seven - Russian Dandyism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 February 2024

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

Russian ‘Petit Maître’: Occupational Hazards

Dandies, petits maîtres, muscadins: Russia's men of fashion were known by many names. Historically, there were different words in Russian denoting the man of fashion. The first words in use included ‘shchegol’ (fop), ‘petimetr’ (petit maître), and ‘fert’ (coxcomb). Times changed, new words appeared, yet beaux always strove to look their best, arousing distrust in some, and admiration, in others.

The origins of Russian dandyism can be traced back to the eighteenth century. Let us begin by taking a closer look at Russian dandies of this period. Here is the typical portrait of the man of fashion – Prince Kurakin, who had a nickname ‘diamond Prince’, so fond was he of luxurious costumes, richly decorated with diamonds and precious stones.

Kurakin was a great pedant about clothes. Every morning when he awoke his servant handed him a book, like an album, where there were samples of the materials from which his amazing suits were sewn and pictures of outfits. For every outfit there was a particular sword, buckles, ring, and a snuffbox. Once, playing cards with the Empress the Prince suddenly felt something amiss; opening his snuff-box, he saw that the ring which was on his finger did not go at all with the box, and the box did not match the rest of his outfit. His displeasure was so great, that even though he had a very strong hand he still lost the game, but fortunately nobody except himself noticed the dreadful carelessness of his servant.

All of Kurakin's actions were highly typical of the eighteenth-century man of fashion. For him the harmony of the details of his costume was the basis of his spiritual tranquillity and feeling in control. One might remember here the ironic saying of R.W. Emerson, who once declared that the sense of being perfectly well-dressed gives a feeling of inner tranquillity which even religion is powerless to bestow. His album is not unlike Journal de Toilette of Mr.Le.V. Kurakin behaved like a classic aristocrat, using fashion as a sign of his high status, wealth, and economic ability to manage his personal property to the greatest effect. Thus, an involuntary neglect of trifles equalled for him for a symbolic loss of status that left him feeling exposed, almost naked.

In this story there is also something else curious – the tone of the narrator.

Type
Chapter
Information
Fashioning the Dandy
Style and Manners
, pp. 163 - 212
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2023

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