On Dandies

As a lion hunter would study his lioness quarry, I have recently been pondering the fascinating creature of the dandy. To my surprise, there are several websites and articles attempting to dissect, discuss and celebrate (with the appropriate distance and dignity requisite of a dandy) this unique form of masculinity.

I thought I’d share some snippets from an article on dandyism.net, the definitive blog on dandies. They have explained and analyzed dandyism to a degree I couldn’t hope to do myself. And so, I give you their abridged definition of the dandy:

We agree with Barbey d’Aurevilly that dandyism is as difficult to describe as to define. We can opine about effortless elegance and sparkling wit, but dandyism is ultimately characterized by the nearly indescribable effect of the dandy’s appearance and demeanor on the spectator. The French call such effect a je ne sais quoi; in Hollywood it’s called having “it.”

The magic of dandyism resides in the interplay between the dandy’s temperament and his appearance. Yet it is not a question of simple harmony, for one dandy may combine severe dress with a jocular demeanor, while another meshes cold aloofness with colorful and audacious dress.

The common characteristics dandyism.net identifies among dandies are the following: physical distinction, elegance, self-mastery, aplomb, independence — ideally financial independence; wit, a skeptical, world-weary, sophisticated, bored or blasé demeanor; self-mocking and endearing egotism; dignity/reserve; discriminating taste; renaissance man; caprice. However they add the following caveat:

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.”

These definitions and criteria certainly put the plume in the hat when it comes to the outward effects and affectations of a dandy, but I found these comments from another article on wikipedia quite interesting as well.

Charles Baudelaire, in the later, “metaphysical” phase of dandyism defined the dandy as one who elevates æsthetics to a living religion that the dandy’s mere existence reproaches the responsible citizen of the middle class: “Dandyism in certain respects comes close to spirituality and to stoicism” and “These beings have no other status, but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons, of satisfying their passions, of feeling and thinking …. Contrary to what many thoughtless people seem to believe, dandyism is not even an excessive delight in clothes and material elegance. For the perfect dandy, these things are no more than the symbol of the aristocratic superiority of his mind.”

What I find so fascinating about this commentary on the dandy is that it elevates dandyism above the material manifestations and ways that the world perceives a dandy and gets straight to the heart of why dandies are the way they are. They love to think, to feel, to pursue their passions — all other manifestations of sophistication are mere reflections of their desire to cultivate their minds and talents.

I’m still marinading about dandies, and would like to continue expounding, but I’m almost too interested in another idea — the definition and inner workings of a female dandy, should she exist.