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Archive for June 17th, 2013

What makes a Dandy?

Honoré_Daumier_-_Dandy

As I meet more and more dapper Buffalo gents, I’m often asked what qualities must one possess to be considered a Dandy? I can think of no more elegant description then the one provided by Dandyism.net.

1. Physical distinction
Dandyism can only be painted on a suitable canvas. It is impossible to cut a dandy figure without being tall, slender and handsome, or having at least one of those characteristics to a high degree while remaining at least average in the other two. Fred Astaire was neither tall nor handsome, but he was “so thin you could spit through him.”

Count D’Orsay, of course, had all three qualities to the highest degree.

“To appear well dressed, be skinny and tall.” — Mason Cooley

2. Elegance
Elegance, of course, as defined by the standards of a dandy’s particular era.

“[The dandy’s] independence, assurance, originality, self-control and refinement should all be visible in the cut of his clothes.” — Ellen Moers

Dandies must love contemporary costume, says Beerbohm, and their dress should be “free from folly or affectation.”

3. Self-mastery
Barbey speaks of the dandy’s staunch determination to remain unmoved, while Baudelaire says that should a dandy suffer pain, he will “keep smiling.”

“Manage yourself well and you may manage all the world.” — Bulwer-Lytton

“Immense calm with your heart pounding.” — Noel Coward

4. Aplomb
While self-mastery is the internal practice of keeping emotions in check, aplomb is how it is expressed to the dandy’s audience.

“Dandyism introduces antique calm among our modern agitations.” — Barbey d’Aurevilly

5. Independence
Ideally financial independence, but if the dandy is forced to work, a spirit of independence will be expressed through his work, as with Tom Wolfe. Independence — often to the point of aloofness — will also characterize the dandy’s dealings with the world.

“The epitome of selfish irresponsibility, he was ideally free of all human commitments that conflict with taste: passions, moralities, ambitions, politics or occupations.” — Moers

“Independence makes the dandy.” — Barbey d’Aurevilly

6. Wit
Especially a paradoxical way of talking lightly of the serious and seriously of the light that carries philosophical implications.

(See Oscar Wilde, his characters such as Lord Henry and Lord Goring, and to a lesser degree every other notable dandy.)

7. A skeptical, world-weary, sophisticated, bored or blasé demeanor
“The dandy is blasé, or feigns to be.” — Baudelaire

“A spirit of gay misanthropy, a cynical, depreciating view of society.” — Lister

8.  A self-mocking and ultimately endearing egotism
“Other people are quite dreadful. The only possible society is oneself.” — Wilde, “The Ideal Husband”

9. Dignity/Reserve
Pelham keeps “the darker and stormier emotions” to himself — Bulwer-Lytton

“A flawless dandy, he would be annoyed if he were considered romantic.” — Oscar Wilde, “An Ideal Husband”

10. Discriminating taste
“To resist whatever may be suitable for the vulgar but is improper for the dandy.” — Moers

11. A renaissance man
“A complete gentleman, who, according to Sir Fopling, ought to dress well, dance well, fence well, have a genius for love letters, and an agreeable voice for a chamber.” — Etherege, quoted by Bulwer-Lytton in “Pelham”

12. Caprice
Because dandies are an enigma wrapped in a labyrinth, and because dandyism makes its own rules, the final quality is the ability to negate all the others.

For in the end there is not a code of dandyism, as Barbey writes. “If there were, anybody could be a dandy.”

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