Was Beau Brummell a Dandy?
It is a popular misconception that a Regency dandy was a powdered and patched horror, dressed in silk and affectation. Nothing could be further from the truth. The original and greatest dandy of them all – Beau Brummell – would have recoiled with horror to be compared with these creatures. Though he had very refined senses – claiming to have caught a cold after sharing a room with a damp stranger and nursing a delicate palate (when asked if he ate vegetables, he is said to have replied “Madam, I once ate a pea.”) – these pretensions were just adjuncts to his raison d’etre: his appearance. He was very clear that clothes should never attract attention, “nothing too tight or too fashionable” he admonished. If heads turned to follow a man along the street, he was not well-dressed. Brummell’s maxim was “fine linen and plenty of it” He was never flamboyant, but manly and dignified, and though not tall, strived to be perfect in every way. Every day, his toilette would take more than two hours and would involve brushing his teeth, shaving, a thorough wash and scrub; followed by brushing his body all over with a stiff brush and finally pursuing any errant remaining hairs with a pair of tweezers. He prided himself on never needing scent because he was so clean. Brummell’s search for perfection in his dress led him to devise a stirrup to go under the foot and stop his pantaloons from wrinkling, but it is the cravat for which he is most famous. A story recounts his valet leaving the room with his arms laden with linen cravats, “these are our failures” – no wonder that Brummell inspired the ditty
My neckcloth, of course, forms my principal care, For by that we criterions of elegance swear; And it costs me, each morning, some hours of flurry, To make it appear to be tied in a hurry.
He invariably dressed in a blue coat tightly buttoned at the waist with the tails cut above the knee, buff coloured pantaloons and waistcoat, finished with the whitest of white cravats and Hessian boots of the blackest black whose shine, it was said, extended to the soles and was maintained with champagne froth. The only jewellery would be his gleaming buttons and a simple signet ring. He said of himself “I have no talents other than to dress; my genius is in the wearing of clothes.”
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This companion piece to Joanna Brown’s article on Beau Brummell was copied by permission of Jane Austen’s Regency World. To learn more about this magazine, the only full color magazine devoted to Jane Austen, or to subscribe, visit their website: www.worldmags.com