The idea of a dandy is a complex one, best epitomized by George VI’s friend, Beau Brummel. Dandies were fashionable men-about-town in the Regency era, though their foppish adherence to style quickly grew sneer-worthy in the early Victorian era. While considered quite masculine during the Regency, they were considered effeminate by later generations.
The essence of the dandy was to look effortlessly perfect and understated, though a great deal of effort was often put into such an aesthetic. Beau Brummel once famously spent hours tying a simple white cravat, attempting to perfect the ‘artful dishevelment’ of someone who had merely thrown the cravat on.
Dandies (also sometimes interchangeably called ‘fops’ and ‘coxcombs’ in silver fork fiction) were also notorious partiers and flirts who reputedly never settled down. Young girls were often warned off these stylish bad-boys by concerned mothers and friends.
Relationships and Romance
- “I thank Heaven, I was born a coxcomb, for coxcombs are bachelors by prescriptive right; and it would have stung me to the soul to find myself tied down like Gulliver, in my middle age, by the authority of a regiment of pigmies [i.e. children]” (Cecil 10).
Definitions of Dandies
- “An English dandy is a dandy and nothing else; he is a very lay-figure, – the man is neutralized, – he is nothing but starched and stupid impertinence. The French dandy has at least animal life left in him” (The English in France 2:280-281).
- “There are in London two sets of dissipated men: one set, the butterflies of balls, the loungers of the regular walks of society; diners-out; the ‘old familiar faces,’ seen everywhere, known to every one: the other set, a more wild, irregular, careless race of men, who go little into parties, and vote balls a nuisance; who live in clubs; frequent theatres; drive about late o’nights in mysterious-looking vehicles, and enjoy a vast acquaintance among the Aspasias of pleasure. These are the men who are the critics of theatricals: black-neckclothed and unilaterally hated, they sit in their boxes and decide on the ankles of a dancer or the voice of a singer. They have a smattering of literature and use a great deal of French in their conversation: they have something of romance in their composition, and have been known to marry for love. In short, there is in their whole nature a more roving, liberal, Continental character of dissipation than belongs in the cold, tame, dull, prim, hedge-clipped debaucheries of more national exquisitism” (Godolphin 1:68-69).
- “There are two classes of popular men in London; the sprightly, joyous, good-humoured set; the quiet, gentle, sarcastic set. The one are fellows called devilish good – the other, fellows called devilish gentleman-like” (Godolphin 3:50).
- “Vivian Grey was a graceful, lively lad, with just enough of dandyism to preserve him from committing gaucheries” (Vivian Grey 1:52).
Dress and Appearance
- “A very stout, puffy man, in buckskins and Hessian boots, with several immense neckcloths, that rose almost to his nose, with a red-striped waistcoat and an apple-green coat with steel buttons almost as large as crown pieces (it was the morning costume of a dandy or blood of those days)” (Vanity Fair 25).
- “The structure of his fine head was such as physiognomists assign to superior intellect; and the precise arrangement of its glossy auburn curls left it difficult to decide whether its fanciful and fashionable possessor was more fop or philosopher, dandy or poet” (Florence Macarthy 1:9).
- “He was of that privileged set, who having nothing earthly to do the whole day but dress themselves, with an admirable Breguetin their pocket, make it a point of always coming an hour too late for dinner, and in black neckcloths and boots” (Almack’s Revisted 1:180).
- “Cuff, on the contrary, was the great chief and dandy of the Swishtail Seminary. He smuggled wine in. He fought the town-boys. Ponies used to come for him to ride home on Saturdays. He had his top-boots in his room, in which he used to hunt in the holidays. He had a gold repeater: and took snuff like the Doctor. He had been to the Opera, and new the merits of the principal actors” (Vanity Fair 48).
- “A perfect and celebrated ‘blood’ or dandy about town, was this young officer. Boxing, rat-hunting, the fives’ court and four-in-hand driving were then the fashion of our British aristocracy” (Vanity Fair 105).
- “He was of course a member of White’s, Watier’s, and the clubs at Newmarket and Melton; whilst the table at the Union was never complete without him. The dressing-rooms at the Opera, the secret committees at the theatres, the porter’s private list in every fashionable and difficult house, as well as the dining-rooms of our most renowned Amphytrions, were alike open to him” (Almack’s Revisited 1:179).
What to Call Dandies
- “he intended to be an exquisite, but the hacknied word dandy, alone can give a perfect idea of what he was” (Tales of Perplexity 68).
- “To this regiment [the Tenth] Nature has been certainly very liberal in providing coxcombs – I beg their pardon, I should have written ‘exquisites;’ for coxcomb is an obsolete term; it is vulgar! It would, I am sure, rouse even their nonchalance into the insupportable fatigue of an angry ebullition” (The Private Correspondence of a Woman of Fashion 1:52-53).
- “we detest the hacknied word ‘dandy’” (Almack’s Revisted 1:180).
- “Dandy has been voted vulgar, and beau is now the word” (The Young Duke 1:33-34).