For the British children's comic book, see The Dandy.
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Sporty Parisian dandies of the 1830s: a girdle was required to achieve this silhouette.

A dandy is a man who rejects bourgeois values, devotes particular attention to his physical appearance, refines his language, and cultivates his hobbies. A dandy's mere existence is a reproach to the responsible citizen of the middle class: épater le bourgeois in the words of Charles Baudelaire. A dandy emulates aristocratic values, often without being an aristocrat himself, thus such a dandy is a form of snob. A dandy was differentiated from a fop in that the dandy's dress was more refined and sober. The practice of dandyism was a counter-cultural habit, a tacit critique of the commonplace that began in the revolutionary 1790s, both in London and Paris.

There haven't been any "men's fashions" worthy of the name since Louie the Sixteenth got the axe.
-- Steve Gustafson

The word dandy—perhaps a shortened form of jack-a-dandy, (Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911 (http://56.1911encyclopedia.org/D/DA/DANDY.htm)) a fop— was a vogue word during the Napoleonic Wars. (It did make an early appearance in a Scottish border ballad about 1780, but probably not with its usual meaning.) The very model of the dandy in British society was George Bryan "Beau" Brummell (1778-1840), an associate of the Prince Regent: unpowdered, unperfumed, immaculately bathed and shaved, in a plain dark blue coat, perfectly brushed, of perfect fit, showing a lot of perfectly starched linens, perfectly freshly laundered, with an elaborately-tied cravat, he was an early celebrity from the mid-1790s, famous chiefly for being a laconic wit and a clothes-horse. When Pitt taxed powder in 1795, Brummel had already abandoned a wig and cut his hair in a Roman fashion, "à la Brutus. Brummell led the move from breeches to snugly-tailored dark "pantaloons"— the trousers, that have been mainstay of men's wear in the Western world for two centuries. Brummell inherited a fortune of thirty thousand pounds, which he spent mostly on costume, gaming and high living, until he suffered the typical fate of the dandy, and fled from his creditors to France, and ultimately died in a lunatic asylum, in Caen.

During his heyday, though, Brummell's dicta on fashion and etiquette reigned supreme. Brummell's habits of dress and fashion were much imitated, especially in France where, in an unusual mixture, they became especially the rage in bohemian quarters. People of more notable accomplishments than Brummell adopted the pose as well; George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron occasionally dressed the part of the fop, and helped reintroduce the frilly, lace-cuffed and collared "poet shirt," and had his portrait painted in Albanian costume.

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Max Beerbohm in a lithographic portrait of 1893

A great dandy in the 1840s was Alfred Guillaume Gabriel d'Orsay, the Count d'Orsay, who had been a friend of Byron and moved in the highest London circles. The great dandy of literature is the Scarlet Pimpernel, a fiction of 1905 set during the French Revolution.

In France the practice was known by the English word, as dandyism. The dandy was self-created. The poet Charles Baudelaire wrote that an aspiring dandy must have "no profession other than elegance. . . no other status but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons. . . . The dandy must aspire to be sublime without interruption; he must live and sleep before a mirror." Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly wrote an essay on The Anatomy of Dandyism, which was devoted in large measure to examining the career of Beau Brummell. By their elaborate care as to their costume, French bohemian dandies, like their less well dressed bohemian brethren, sought to convey their contempt for and superiority to bourgeois society by their dress and way of life. It is little wonder that the French dandies acquired a reputation for decadence. Their fancy-dress bohemianism became a major influence on the Symbolist movement in French literature during the latter part of the nineteenth century.

The dandy cultivated a skeptical reserve, to such extremes that the novelist George Meredith, no dandy himself, was of the opinion that "Cynicism is intellectual dandyism."

The female equivalents of dandies must be looked for in the demi-monde. An extravagant courtesan like Cora Pearl might be considered a female dandy. The diva might also be considered a female analogue.

The 1890s provided many suitably sheltered settings for dandyism: the poets Algernon Swinburne and Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, the American artist James McNeill Whistler, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Max Beerbohm, Robert de Montesquiou, the dandy who inspired Marcel Proust's Baron de Charlus. In Italy Gabriele d'Annunzio and Carlo Bugatti exemplified the artistic bohemian dandyism at the turn of the 20th century. The 20th century had less patience with dandyism: the Prince of Wales, briefly Edward VIII was something of a dandy, and it did not help his public appeal. Nevertheless George Walden, in his essay Who's a Dandy?, points to Noel Coward, Andy Warhol and Quentin Crisp as examples of dandies of the modern era.


" A Dandy is a clothes-wearing Man, a Man whose trade, office and existence consists in the wearing of Clothes. Every faculty of his soul, spirit, purse, and person is heroically consecrated to this one object, the wearing of Clothes wisely and well: so that the others dress to live, he lives to dress...And now, for all this perennial Martyrdom, and Poesy, and even Prophecy, what is it that the Dandy asks in return? Solely, we may say, that you would recognise his existence; would admit him to be a living object; or even failing this, a visual object, or thing that will reflect rays of light . . ."

- The Dandiacal Body from Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle

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