The Dandy


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    The satorial elegance of the 6th Duke of Devonshire showing one of the innovations of Beau Brummell for the dandy set which was the strap beneath the boot or shoe to keep the set of one's trousers smooth.
    The Dandies were no prissy class of gentlemen, or mincing walkers as their elegant forebears, the Macaroni's, had been. They were the well dressed, witty and elegant men of a new generation. Led by George 'Beau' Brummell. They are mostly remembered now for their sartorial dress, but in fact the group of men were also known at the time for their wit, amiability and loyalty.

    The Excesses of the eighteenth century dress with foaming lace, richly brocaded coats, high red heels, powdered wigs and gaudy jewelry were left behind for a simpler age of elegance, in dress anyway. To generate revenue William Pitt put a tax on hair powder in 1795. It was a curious tax with a long list of exceptions but it was hoped by Pitt to generate around 210,000 guineas in revenue. In fact it was the beginning of the end. Whig leaders met in September of that year and cut off their queues and vowed to abandon the use of hair powder. The move was met with immense support and the tax only raised 46,000 guineas.

    The style of the well dressed man was defined by Brummell as that which drew no attention to himself. Dark coats, unadorned, but of the most exquisite cut were worn over linen of the snowiest white and well starched neckcloths. Only the waistcoat could display the lavish embroidery and design. The Dandies followed Brummell and the Prince of Wales to have their coats made by Schweitzer and Davidson in Cork Street, and later Mayer, also on Cork Street. Ulimately Brummell's tailor of choice was Weston in Conduit Street. Another well known tailor of the time was Stulze - for Brummell, one could tell a Stulze coat anywhere which was enough to damn it in his eyes. "Give me a man who makes the tailor, not the Tailor who makes the man." Despite this damning appraisal Stulze was popular with such notaries as the Duke of Wellington.

    Brummell's influence also extended to two other innovations, the top boot was replaced by the hessian with its heart shaped top and tassel. It suited the patriotism of the time for the Hessian was solidly German while the top boot was French and Napoleon was the enemy. All the best gentlemen had their boots made by Hoby whose premises were on the corner of St James's Street and Piccadilly and employed some 300 workmen. With the hessian boot came the pantaloon which replaced the knee breeches. The problem with pantaloon's however was the wrinkles they formed. To fix this Brummell came up with the the foot loop (shown in the picture above of the William, 6th Duke of Devonshire.)

    The Dandy did spend some hours on his toilette each morning - this is true, but their influence on society was more than just the figures they cut. They were also believed the taste and elegance of manner and style of person was as important as their dress. As one contemporary remarked:

      The manners of the Dandies were themselves a charm. Their speech was pleasnt, their language thoroughbred. Many among them were highly-gifted, doing all that they did well; the less apt, always to the point, letting it alone; with enthusiasm, wihtout illusions - a school of gentlemen, liberal, openhanded; ephermeral as youth and spirits, yet marked with this endearing quality, that they remained, with few exceptions, true and loyal friends, tested through later years of adversity.'

    This later 'adversity' was invariably debts and bankruptcy and more than one had to flee to the continent. This was not only due to the heavy costs of maintaining a wardrobe of sartorial elegance, nor the exorbitant club fees for White's and Brooks's the Dandies gambled heavily, and could lose as heavily.

    Brummell was once asked how much a young man, just being launched in London, would need for clothes. Tongue in cheek Brummell replied, "With strict economy it might be done for 800 pounds a year." In fact Brummell's income was at least twice that figure. While he lived relatively sparingly, rarely entertaining, and without practicing extravagence in clothing, he was till bankrupt by 1816 - the product of gambling.

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