Exploring Menswear: The New English Dandy and his origins

I’m looking at this amazing book to learn more about menswear. I’m going to go through the introduction now and in later posts I will explore each chapter of the book.

Cicolini, A. 2005. The New English Dandy. London: Thames and Hudson.

The term ‘dandy’ invites an impossibly diverse range of interpretations and definitions. Alice Cicolini investigates extensively the New English Dandy, or as she puts it “the surging international profile of British menswear [focusing] on six styles that define the contemporary English dandy”. (For my purpose I’m not going to worry about whether menswear is designed by London designers or not, its all such a global thing now anyway).

She looks at:

  • The Gentleman “the inheritors of a classic tailoring elegance, masters of subtlety and detail”
  • Neo Modernist “the reappearance of Modernism in English style and its heritage”
  • East End Flaneur “a particular bohemian dandy informed by music, art and design”
  • Celebrity Tailor “the arbiters of superstar taste and notoriety”
  • Terrace Casual “the Mancunian revivalists of working-class style”
  • New Briton “the designers and dandies engaged in re-interpreting contemporary national identity”

Here are some images of menswear that I love.. and just as an experiment I’m pairing each image with one of the six styles, so I can look back on it and see how inaccurate I was in my knowledge of menswear and the New English Dandy.

The Gentleman? Philip Sparks SS09

The Neo Modernist? Claude Grant AW09

The East End Flaneur? Obscur mensrag.com

The Celebrity Tailor? Editorial from 2magazine (Sean Opry)

The Terrace Casual? Conference of Birds SS09

The New Briton? Tom Ford Mens SS09

Cicolini does make sure to mention that although there are vast differences between the various groups, there are shared traits underpinning the deliberate choices the men from each are making.

“Consideration, neatness, awareness of the importance of detail, appreciation of line, investment in quality and an enjoyment of a certain distinction that an understanding of these elements combine to afford – all are characteristics that defined the style of the original dandy’s dandy of 1790s Regency London, George Bryan ‘Beau’ Brummell.”

Robert Geller AW09 and Beau Brummell

Robert Geller AW09

The rest of the introduction Cicolini talks about the definition of the dandy which I am going to include a bit of, because it is so integral to menswear.

Beau Brummell is one of the most significant figures in history in relation to menswear. He was the turning point in history which saw men leaving the extravagant dress to the women. Cicolini describes him as having been a “flamboyant puritan; a man who rejected the trappings of a cosseted aristocratic lifestyle, the silks, velvets and lace cut to create an exaggerated figure, whilst at the same time displaying a shrewd recognition of the importance of aesthetics, form and line in the making of the modern man.” He was the first dandy.

Ellen Moers (on Beau Brummell) in The Dandy:

“Legend is confused about the nature of [Brummell’s] style. The popular version has always been that he dressed too obviously well, with fantastic colours and frills, exotic jewels and perfumes. The accurate report declares that he dressed in a style more austere, manly and dignified than any before or since….Brummell established a mean of taste appropriate to this last Georgian age, which took pride in its application of the principles of restraint, naturalness and simplicity to the modest spheres of interior decoration and personal appearance”

Austerity (H&M campaign, photographer: Pierre Bjork, Stylist: Andreas Lowenstam)

Brummell’s taste was transformed by a number of writers into a way of life:

Edward Bulwer-Lytton (Adventures of a Gentleman) gave it maxims – rules to live by.

Jules Barby (Du Dandysme et de Georges Brummell) turned diary recordings of Brummell’s life into a handbook for an attitude and a lifestyle.

Charles Baudelaire (Le Peintre de la vie moderne) remodelled the dandy as a modern hero, a political, spiritual and social revolutionary.

Walter Pater drew on Baudelaire’s potent blend of idealized dandyism and the English Romantic to create his own manifesto of decadent aestheticism.

Decadent aesthetics still within Brummell’s austere, manly and dignified style? Ontfront FW0910

Cicolini: “the desire to challenge the status quo through the veneration of style and beauty unites later radical, bohemian and flamboyant dandyism” – from Oscar Wilde, to Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Leigh Bowery. (Note to self: look each of these legends up)

Flamboyant(ish) dandyism – James Long SS10 – Carolyn Massey SS10 – A Child of the Jago SS10

James Long SS10

James Long SS10

Carolyn Massey SS10

A Child of the Jago SS10

A far more modern interpretation is club and music promoter Matthew Glamorre:

To me dandyism is socio-political confrontationism through dress. True dandies satirize their times, leaders, public and politics. Dandyism is a refusal to play by society’s rules of banality and conformity. Whether these rules are aesthetic, social or political, the dandy is a self-ostracised outsider.”

Oak’s fall editorial could be a good example of this, but then again maybe Craig Lawrence 2010 is closer to the mark.

Oak magazine editorial

Craig Lawrence 2010

Towards the end of the introduction Cicolini mentions where the dandy is in the Twentieth century and uses the term Metrosexual while also exploring the fact that nowadays it is hard to find distinction and differentiation from each other, as well-renowned forecasting magazine Viewpoint said:

“We are increasingly engaged in making our world special. More people in more aspects of life are drawing pleasure and meaning from the way their persons, places and things look and feel. Whenever we have the chance, we are adding sensory, emotional appeal to ordinary function”.

Kranedesign – check out the zip tie!

Cicolini ends with Christopher Breward’s point that there are two kinds of dandyism – one which is associated with political/sexual/social resistance, the other which is a commercial and corporeal engagement with the urban marketplace – and she explains that this book The New English Dandy attempts to unravel the two by exploring the varied interpretations of dandyism which are evident in contemporary England.

Social resistance (editorial 2magazine)

Commercial urban dandy (Popissue09)

That was an effort.. next chapter!   =|


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