There has always been a certain suspicion of a man who dresses well within our society. Those who don’t know how to dress well or – even worse – can’t be bothered to dress well are quick to criticise the cultured man’s very masculinity. Especially in Australia, the bulk of the male population would have you believe that to care for how one looks, or how one presents themselves to others is reaching beyond the metaphorical realm of manhood. Of the many cultural injustices of the day, the ignorance of good fashion sense ranks among the highest.
However, for a couple of hundred years now, there has been a growing class of men who do care; of men who understand that an outer appearance is a direct reflection of the inner character. One of the first of these men to begin such a style revolution was Beau Brummell.
Life of Beau Brummell
Beau Brummell was not born into aristocracy. Instead, he used his lifetime of knowledge and charisma to forge his name into the inner circles of British high society. Brummell was born in 1778 to a middle-class politician father. Beau Brummell’s intelligence and wit saw him exceed expectations at Eton and later Oxford. After this, Brummell became an officer in the army and quickly rose in popularity among the sons of Britain’s rising bourgeoise. However, when he learned, he would be sent away from London, and on to Manchester, Brummell immediately resigned his post citing that he couldn’t stand to be away from the cultural capital.
Although his time in the military had come to an abrupt end, Beau Brummell remained firm friends with many officers. One of these men was George IV – the man who would be king. Through the prince, Brummell could extend his taste for fashion on to wider British society. This taste dismissed the unnecessary dissipation of the royalty. Gone were powdered wigs, heavy coats, and bulging breeches. Brummell’s style of dress would lay the foundation to the modern suit and included dark jackets, trousers, linen shirts and a knotted cravat (the forerunner of the necktie).
An obsession with proper dress took hold, and soon Beau Brummell’s name was on everybody’s lips. Widespread rumours of Beau Brummell included that:
- It took him five hours to get fully ready for the day ahead.
- He polished his boots with the most pristine champagne.
- He believed that a man could dress well for a mere £800 per year (even though the average salary at the time was £52 annually).
It soon became apparent that Brummell wasn’t merely a well-dressed man but quite the character also. This elegant combination of wit and wear became known as dandyism and has been the basis of many insults and compliments throughout recent centuries. As a dandy, Brummell became popular company among the rich and famous. Unfortunately, Brummell had only a small fortune left to him by his deceased father which began depleting rapidly as a result of his hedonistic and indulgent ventures.
The future king, as well as many other members of the aristocracy, began to distance themselves from the influence of Brummell and soon the innovative dandy found himself being less and less wanted in London high society. Simultaneously, Brummell’s debts continued to pile. To escape prison, he fled to France. Here Brummell wandered somewhat aimlessly and lived through the charity of a few remaining English friends. In 1840 he died of Syphilis, penniless and insane.
The name Beau Brummell is now synonymous with a sharp wit, slightly offensive humour and of course, beautiful dress. He was perhaps the first celebrity merely for celebrity’s sake – think today of the Kim K’s and Scotty T’s who are famous because they are famous. Future dandies such as Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde have Brummell to thank for laying the foundation for men who considered their appearance an essential element to their character.
The archetype of the dandy is still alive and well; he is the man whose lapels are perfectly unwrinkled, whose watch sits exactly one inch above his wrist and whose facial hair follows specific lines of order. To the uninitiated, the dandy’s insistence on the perfect look may seem not just unnecessary but pedantic, edging on crazy. However, for that select few who prefer the finer things in life and know that what to dress poorly is to live poorly, Beau Brummell is a figure of necessary virtue that keeps our humanity in check and the barbarians at the gates.