The Dandy: Self-made, Well-dressed, Well-mannered, and Traditional or Flamboyant.

Dandy. When I hear that word a slew of things come to mind, a few of them being: the phrase “well, isn’t that just dandy”, the image of a flamboyantly dressed gentleman somewhere in Europe, the childhood song “Yankee Doodle”, the book “Great Gatsby”, and a few stylish men- one being Fonzworth Bentley.
Though I’ve learned about dandies here and there throughout life, I’ve never just sat down and researched dandies and dandyism myself. So, I decided to, and this is what I found…

(pictured left, the first dandy George Brummel)

According to Webster:

Main Entry: 1dan·dy
Pronunciation: \ˈdan-dē\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural dandies
Etymology: probably short for jack-a-dandy, from 1jack + a (of) + dandy (origin unknown)
Date: circa 1780
1 : a man who gives exaggerated attention to personal appearance
2 : something excellent in its class
So basically, a dandy is indeed a well-dressed man. To go further he is, “a man who places, particular importance or physical appearance, refined language, and leisurely hobbies.” The history of the dandy is rather interesting, being that he’s often defined in several ways:

1. a self-made person, who rejected bourgeois values, adapting a carefree, indolent lifestyle while emulating aristocracy

2. a person of middle class background, who imitated aristocratic style

-or simply-

3. a refined, elegant man

I find that, historically, most dandies were either very wealthy or middle class. The wealthy ones would dress extravagantly and were either flanuers- men who wanted to quintessentially experience life and observe beauty and art -OR- men who played many games (billiards, hunting, etc), lived at the cafes, dined at the inns, and were seemingly idle. The middle class dandies were often men who were innately stylish, causing them to be fawned over by the aristocrats, and their elegance and style made them extremely influential in their societies.

A famous dandy, Baudelaire, commented that the dandies had “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.”

So elegance is his job? Hmmm… let’s have a closer look into “dandyism”.
(excerpt from thedandy.org)

“Dandyism was born “officially” in the early 1800′s. At this time there was a lot of change going on politically [the French had recently made their king a bit shorter- by a head], and socially as England was quickly surpassing France as the major cultural influence in Europe and America. What happened in short was this. A young man whose name was George Bryan Brummel, the son of a undersecretary made friends with the Prince Regent, and became one of the most influential, and even powerful men in the nation, not by his birthright, or education, or military prowess, or scholastic accomplishment…but by being well dressed.
George made quite an impression on English society, and caused many powerful people to abandon their gaudy Baroque-ish outfits and adopt Mr. Brummel’s clean, elegant, simple toned manner of dressing. George Brummel’s perfection of style gained him access to the highest of English society: the Dandy was born. The Dandy was a gentleman first, any other title HAD to come second. The fact that he was of noble blood of any rank, whose job had traditionally been to dress well as a sign of social standing, could be an obstacle to being a Dandy if he relied on his title, and not his style. Thus any gentleman through a command of the dress and manners of good society, could gain access to the social influence of the aristocracy. Thus, an aristocrat could only be a Dandy if his pride was his appearance and manners, not this title. Nor could a nobleman of any rank be a Dandy if he dropped in his title in conversation in order to impress, or took more pride in his heritage than his style. If ever he relied on his title, he lost his Dandyhood. This new standard had a dramatic effect on the English landscape, and wasn’t long before heading across the channel to France. We’ll stop with the history, and explain a bit more about the characteristics.
A Dandy pursed elegance, it was his ultimate and unique goal. Everything he did was designed to make his social presentation more elegant, thus great care had to be taken not to appear too extravagant in his dress, and of course never slovenly. A Dandy was also not a man who wares flamboyant clothing. His outfits are designed to please and add elegance and swagger to his presentation; not make him stand out a mile away, so Oscar Wilde was NOT a Dandy- in the strict definition of the term.
Oscar Wilde is not a traditional dandy

This trend of using elegant dress to influence people, while not being a novel one, nevertheless was an important one, because as there were Macaronis, Hell rakes, Fops, and other sorts of fancy figures in the history of Europe and America, they never were able to cross that line into real social power unless they had been born there. The Dandy was the first. This meant that as the 19th Century progressed, it was not a narrow aristocracy of birth that ran society, but a collection of well dressed, well mannered gentlemen who all obeyed the same set of rules, and for whom- any of whom, regardless of birth, to break the rules of etiquette, meant banishment form society. Influence and power was based around being well bred, not of noble birth… [The] Dandy is a man whose pursuit of elegance, in matters of dress, manners, and speech gains him a respect that nothing else can give. “

So flamboyant doesn’t define a dandy at all, not the original dandy anyway. Using one’s style and speech to achieve social status… that’s an everyday thing in this century, though many fail with their pedestrian attempts. But still, this isn’t far-fetched… there are a ton of phrases that emulate this way of thinking, “Dress for the job you want” “Dress for success”. There are many versions of those phrases, and I’d have to agree with them all for the most part. Your appearance is important, they say people make their first impression within three-seven seconds of meeting a person. It sorta sux that people judge so quickly, but that’s life… and three to seven seconds isn’t enough time to carry out an intellectual conversation, but if you look good then you’re off to a nice start. ( this is random, but Will Smith’s movie, Six Degrees of Seperation comes to mind)

Okay, so we’ve covered the definition, history, and modern adaptions of dandy philosophy, now I think it’s appropriate to figure out who the modern day dandies are.

Alright, so I did a well-rounded best-dressed list back in June 2008 that included- Kanye West, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, David Beckham, Pharrell Williams, Andre Benjamin, Fonzworth Bentley, Johnny Depp, etc. And I think all of these guys could possibly be dandies, depending on the definition given. But obviously everyone can’t be a dandy… here’s my dandy check-list:

A dandy must:

1. place importance on being well-dressed
2. be well-mannered and elegant in speech and living -OR- be flamboyant in his “acts” of elegance.

I think there are two types of dandies: the traditional dandy and flamboyant dandy or maybe I should say the intrinsic dandy and the extrinsic dandy. I find that many people these days are moreso extrinsically dandy than intrinsically dandy, either one is okay, but I have a preference for those who are intrinsically dandy.

Fonzworth Bentley is indeed a dandy

Okay, so if I had to categorize the gents of today, then who would be what… well from the best-dressed list two guys instantly stand out- Kanye and Fonzworth. These are the main two guys from the list that I feel places great importance on being very well-dressed, and from those two I’d have to say Fonzworth Bentley is the intrinsic dandy, while Kanye West is an extrinsic dandy. Mr.Bentley doesn’t over do it, he doesn’t wear “loud clothing” or proclaims himself best-dressed, atleast I don’t think he does. And he, much like George Brummel and other traditional dandies, wasn’t born into an elite family, but rather found favor with the wealthy elite because of his style and mannerisms. Bentley was a maître d at a New York restaurant and was “discovered” by Diddy… the rest of the story you know. Mr. West on the other hand, though I love his style, he can often go overboard and places Too much emphasis on designer labels, when that is Not what style is about. The perfect example of the two types would be Kanye’s emphasis trip to Paris earlier this year


I honestly think it’s hard to place celebrities in one of the dandy categories because many of them dress nice, ONLY because of their fame. It’s hard to figure out who just has “it” and would still have “it” if they were working a regular 9-5. For that reason, I feel photographers, writers, artist and such are better people to give such a title too. Scott Schuman, the Sartorialist himself, is a given traditional dandy to me… he observes people, beauty, style and (from what I can tell) is an intrinsically elegant man. I’m sure many of you have atleast one person in mind that could be either of the two types of dandies….

Scott the Sartorialist

It’s easier for me to group celebrities of the past as dandies… Fred Astaire is often categorized as a dandy, I think the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford) were dandies of their time, I’d have to be candid and say a good amount people of color in entertainment in the 50s, 60s, were intrinsic dandies- being extremely elegant was the only way many of them would even be given the opportunity to entertain despite their musical genuis (so Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, etc etc).

Rat Pack
Nat King Cole

Fred Astaire

Perhaps in a decade or so we’ll look back and call Michael Jackson a sort of dandy- who knows… I think dandyism is still very much in play today, it’s just a little harder to point out. Who would you all consider a (modern) dandy?

Andre Benjamin... I’d call him a southern dandy

sources: mytholoke.com, thedandy.org

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3 Comments


  1. Great article.

  2. Michael was DEF a dandy, perhaps the flamboyant kind though, even though his spirit was humble. All those jackets and royal-like apparel he wore, I'd call that dandy.

    That russian billionare Naomi is dating is definitly a dandy, I think Brad Pitt could be one, George Clooney, and there's others I just have to think about it a little more.

  3. I dont believe that any of our modern day celebrities are dandies. I think that dandies had agendas and were using their appearance to open doors that had been closed before them. Not just for attention for the sake of attention. I believe that Jack Johnson, Marcus Garvey and Paul Roberson where the ultimate dandies.

    Michael Jackson is the only celebrity in this era that worthy of consideration, "in my humble" opinion…

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