Funny how language changes. Words that were offensive yesteryear are common place and innocuous now, and vice versa; seemingly banal words back then can be distasteful. In reading about suits, one such word that I’ve become interested in is the word ‘dandy.’
Today, most associate the word ‘dandy’ with being an effeminate male – limp wristed, lanky, probably shaves his chest. But back in the late 1700s, dandy was a term for a fashionista.
To quote the great scottish writer Thomas Carlyle:
“A Dandy is a clothes-wearing Man, a Man whose trade, office and existence consists in the wearing of clothes.”
The term first came into fashion with someone who many consider to be the first dandy; Beau Brummell.
Brummell was a man that loved fashion and pioneered the modern day suit. But born into a middle-class family, Brummell was not afforded the luxury to wear fine clothes, as many did in that day. Influenced by his father in his yearning to join the elite of society, the well-to-do gentlemen who were educated and well-dressed, Beau had a sense of style that was unmatched with other middle-class families and he quickly stood out.
When Brummell joined the military at the age of 16, joining the future king, and current Prince of Wales, George IV’s regiment – who were known for their many costume variations – it was expected for officers to provide their own uniforms – I know, weird, huh? Brummell’s dress became the center of attention in his regiment, and allowed him to create a friendship with George IV that allowed him to become the future king’s personal clothier.
After the military, Brummell, along with King George IV, began to popularize the modern suit: trousers covering the entire leg, a matching jacket, a white linen shirt, and of course, an ascot.
But where did this bad connotation come from with the word dandy? Along with being well dressed, Brummell was also known for his long and daily toilette rituals, which could take up to 5 hours. Yes – that man was standing in front of a mirror staring at himself for at least 5 hours a day, followed by a marathon of clothes shopping in the afternoon.
Those that were dandy’s were known to be obsessed with their appearance and clearly had no time for the regular work of the everyday man.
Keep in mind, these were the waning days of the aristocracy – and to have the luxurious amount of time to keep up your appearance was envied.
But now, because our society seems to be chock-full of leisure time, it is fashionable to have workmen value and attributes: strong work ethic, tan skin, big muscles, limited-concern with appearance.
And although the term dandy would be considered an insult today, if you’re a well-dressed man, the suits you wear pay tribute Brummell – the dandy man.