This word was attached, starting about 1813-1816, to the exquisite and fashionable men of the period. The cradle of this movement, founded about the middle of the 18th century, was the Macaroni Club. Its members were young men of rank who had visited Italy and sought to introduce the southern elegance of manners and dress into England. Their dress code included “white silk breeches, very tight coat and vest, with enormous white silk stockings and diamond-buckled, red heeled shoes.
The politician Charles James Fox was the first exponent, followed by the man who became the supreme dictator of the movement: George Bryan Brummell, known as Beau Brummell, under whose rule the cult of Dandyism became a social force.(figure available in print form)
Before I continue with the exploration of Dandyism, it is important to clarify that the word was used in this sense as early as 1760. Mention of it can be found right under our nose in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” This song was probably sung by Englishmen who wanted to make fun of the appearance of the American troops:
Yankee Doodle came to town,Riding on a pony,Stuck a feather in his cap,And called it Macaroni!
This example suggests that the words “Macaroni and Dandy” were already associated (as in the song and in England) before the founding of the Macaroni Club (founded in 1764 and considered the headquarters of Dandyism). After losing the war, the English also lost the song to the Americans, and what was intended to be an insulting song became a patriotic one, and a testimonial to the irrelevance of allegedly ridiculous provincialism and vulgarity as revealed by costume.
Dandyisme became a widespread social phenomenon during the Regency of the future George IV, when in fact the aristocracy and the monarchy were most despised in England.
What the utilitarian middle class most hated in the nobility was that the court most appreciated in a dandy: an air of superiority, irresponsibility, inactivity. In fact the dandy pretended to be free of all human commitments: morality. passion-ambition. Politics or any sort of occupation. Beau Brummell became the undisputed leader of this movement. He had an entourage of young men whose insolent and affected manners made them universally unpopular and whose main interests were fashion and clothes. They wore: coats of blue or brown cloth with brass buttons, the coat tails almost touching the heels. Their breeches were extremely tight and on their feet they would wear highly polished hessian boots. They wore a very tight waistcoat to ensure a small waist, and a frilled shirt and cravat.(figures available in print form)
Dandyism can be divided into two different periods. In 1822, owing to the influence of Lord Byron’s person and poetry, the fashionable man must appear at first glance unhappy and sick. He must also look nonchalant, with a deep and fatal look and lips showing scorn towards humanity. During the second part of his evolution the dandy should have a more conquering air of insolence. He must still take care of his appearance, now sporting a mustache or a goatee. He must show an independent character by the way he wears a hat, and by stretching his legs in front of the ladies.(Rene de Chateaubriand)(figure available in print form)
Maybe the only way to understand what the Dandy represented in England is to explore what the French writers thought he was not: he was not middle-class and drab, not stupid, and especially not trapped in a tedious existence. Because the dandy was a self-made person, he could however be judged ambitious - despite his pretense not to be - or unscrupulous.
The dandy is not generally rich, or at least he cannot compare what he has with the people he likes to surround himself with, but he replaces this lack of means with delicacy and perfection of appearance.
He is not a libertine, but he prefers the company of married women, especially of the high aristocracy.
Beau Brummell was not rich, in keeping to the traditional background of the Dandy, and his rise to power was highly controversial and unconventional.
One of the most recurrent stories about his first encounter with the Prince of Wales, who was later to become King George IV, is that the Prince, being then in company of the Marquise of Salisbury. stopped at a rustic farm for a drink and met the young boy; taken by his appearance, he expressed the desire to meet him again.Brummell became a Captain of the Hussars, but bored by the military life, he moved to London. Under the Prince’s protection he became extremely influential in fashionable circles. He was sober but impeccable. The simple act of dressing became, for him,an act of skillful choices, from the tying of the tie to the cut of the gloves. With the awareness of his power came Brummell’s impertinence, from which not even the Prince was spared. He was feared for his bons mots as well as for his sharp tongue. Sometimes his jokes were extremely cruel an unmerciful.
Another extremely important dandy was Alfred Guillaume Gabriel, Count d’Orsay.
Trained to Dandyism under George Iv’ rule and flourishing under William IV and Victoria, he was not only the essential link between the two eras but also the link between France and England.Pride of the aristocracy and friend of virtually every distinguished literary man of his period, he fathered the later literary tradition of Dandyism as Byron had fathered the earlier phase.
Legally his title was Count of France, the title having been bought by his originally bourgeois family. His father, Count Albert, was one of Napoleon’s most handsome generals.
Like Brummell, d’Orsay was one of those personalities who received and was schooled to social graces (very early in life) in a salon. With his sister and her husband, the young Duc de Guiche, d’Orsay was invited to England, by Guiche’s father, who had been named Ambassador Extraordinary for the coronation of George IV.
Accepted immediately in social circles he sparked the interest of many personalities and became part of the menage of the Blessington family, who gave him all he could ask: a home, a new country. Another link between eras can be found in the acquaintance with Byron, whom he met through the Blessingtons, and who knew him quite well in Italy. As when during the 17th century, Mme de Rambouillet’s blue room was famous, the Gore House, where the Blessington-d’Orsay salon was held, became just as important. Scholars have viewed it, not as the center of London, but rather as a retreat where writers, artists, journalists, politicians, actors and foreign personalities met. Among them we can list Lamartine, Vigny, Alexander Dumas, and Franz Liszt, just to name a few.
Women did not take to d’Orsay, except, of course, for Jody Blessington. They were disturbed by his air of sexual ambivalence, and many found his costume effeminate. According to Jane Carlyle, “his beauty is of that rather disgusting sort which seems to be ...of no sex”. Men were drawn to d’Orsay or occasionally repelled. Either way, they found his dandyism a daring blend of the masculine and feminine graces.
The Dandyism movement in France had several followers, but became an intellectual movement rather than an attitude. Jules Amedee d’Aurevilly published a volume in praise of Brummell’s Dandyism called Du Dandyisme et de Georges Brummell. D’Aurevilly was living in Paris, in 1833, when the rage of Anglomania was at its height. Born in 1808 in the heart of the Cotentin peninsula of Normandy, where plenty of English influences still survived, he fully felt that he belonged to England and France, and that he would therefore emphasize the resemblance’s between the two countries. He knew enough of the history of the English Restoration, of the careers and attitudes of eighteenth century beaux, statesmen, novelists, etc., to trace the background of English Dandyism, but in his analysis, Dandyism is considered a spiritual achievement. The art of dressing is not viewed as the need of an exhibitionist but rather the need to be simple and to control, using independent judgment, any aesthetic quality that might give away one’s inner feelings. The dandy becomes therefore synonymous with the artist: and art of this kind must shock rather than please. The dandy is independent of the values and pressures of a society in pursuit of money. He does not work, he merely exists; his sexual ambivalence is not a weakness but a strength because it keeps him independent. The transformation of the ideal of Dandyism brought in by Barbey d’Aurevilly paved the road for the making and the accepting of the poet Charles Baudelaire