Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dandyism: Better than Cargo Shorts

Ever unpowdered, unperfumed, immaculately bathed and shaved, and dressed in a plain dark blue coat, he was always perfectly brushed, perfectly fitted, showing much perfectly starched linen, all freshly laundered, and composed with an elaborately knotted cravat.

- Barbey d'Aurevilly, "Du dandisme et de George Brummell

That Purple Rain poster was very hard to find a photo of, which is too bad because Prince's suit is epic and was clearly custom-made for him, though you can kind of see the metallic paisley and big buttons. Not that if you are reading my blog you haven't looked up close at that poster before anyway, and are also obviously well acquainted with the naked shower Prince poster too.

This image is too small, but trust me, this shit is graphic!

Once dandies were part of our culture, and though we have some modern day dandies, they are much more rare. It seems a lot of guys these days are attempting a modern dandy look, with rolled up skinny jeans and little oxfords, but what they don't know ---and all those seen in the photos above clearly do--- is that dressing like a dandy means nothing without an eye for quality, fabric, and fit. All of these we have certainly have lost the ability to recognize, but people were probably much more aware of when most clothing was handmade and meant to last. Black men of an older generation seem most likely to be dandies these days.

People can't afford bespoke suits, but you don't need bespoke suits to be a dandy. Anyone can starch a shirt. Austin Scarlett, a consummate dandy if there ever was one, amazed me on the first season of Project Runway with his morning ironing routine. The best thing about this look is the effort put into it. It's a perfectly studied flamboyance, as opposed to the flashy and trashy flamboyance I also heartily approve of. It's the opposite of what modern dressing is all about- throwing on some harem pants/pajamas/shants and a beefy tee featuring an off-color reference. Dandies do not wear wraparound sunglasses or flip flops. They tuck in their shirts. Today people don't really have any easy way of learning about clothing even if they wanted to. It's not like you can take a trip to your local department store. There is something intrinsic about the way a true dandy dresses. They have a deep understanding of what they are wearing, an understanding so few people seem to have. "Masculine" attire need not be broad and frumpy. Today's Men's Wearhouse style suits feature clingy legs and boxy blazers, but we can do better.

In conclusion, study the photos of these dandies. Look at the cut of their shirts, their well-coiffed hair, and the ease with with they wear these clothes. This tailored and covered up look is hella fine, but does not rely on conventional good looks to make it work.

Photo Key Which I am Usually Way Too Lazy To Do:
1. Man in the perennially blighted Mid-Market district of San Francisco
2., 3., & 4. Clearly Prince.
5. Katherine Hepburn
6. Fred Astaire in a dandy-inspired number
6. Frida Kahlo and family
7. Josephine Baker
8. Portrait of Una Troubridge
9. & 10. Oscar Wilde
11. Radclyffe Hall
12. Noel Coward
13. & 14. Andre 3ooo and also Big Boi but he's not the focus here, though his suit is cool too
15. Don Cornelius, who I couldn't find better photos of
16. Austin Scarlett outshines non-dandy Tim Gunn
17. & 18. These are the type of David Bowie photos I would paste on my locker in high school. Damn, this was good look for him.
19. John Waters
20. & 21. Marlene Dietrich
22. Yves St. Laurent
23. David Bowie
24, Quentin Crisp

PS: There is a show on Lifetime with Austin Scarlett and Santino from Season 2 where they road trip around and make dresses for non-fancy people and it's pretty amazing!


La Chapelière said...

Nice post!
It's very interesting and especially relevant nowadays (I love the dandy look), I really enjoyed reading it and learned some stuff too (starched shirt hey?)

Will be back...

Simone said...

Can I come over and watch the Austin Scarlet and Santino show? HOLY CRAP does that sound amazing!