Saturday, April 16, 2005


A Dandy Afternoon, Isn't It?

Teddy Jamieson of The Herald of Glasgow interviews Robert Elms about his new memoir/history of dandyism The Way We Wore:

"I think that the tribalism and dandyism of British youth are gone," argues Elms. "Think about that litany of British youth culture that went from Teddy Boy via mod, skinhead, punk, new romantic. There hasn't been one for 20 years or more really, so I think some of it might have finished."

Maybe, he says, it's because we are a more consumerist culture these days. We buy more and, more importantly, there's more to buy. "When we were growing up we only had clothes and records. Clothes were how you showed you knew what to wear and what to do and how you got your status."

That's no longer the case. But the dandy hasn't totally disappeared. A few weeks back Elms went for breakfast with Outkast's Andre 3000, rapper, actor and as Elms himself says "a fantastically well-dressed man".

The one time I met Elms he was also a sharp dressed man indeed; I, on the other hand, had been traveling with backpack full of old books and not enough changes of clothing. Fortunately, listeners couldn't see us. Come to think of it, it seems a bit ironic that such a good dresser hosts a radio show.

One of my favorite new acquisitions, John Timbs's 1875 compendium English Eccentrics and Eccentricities -- with hand-colored plates! -- almost immediately delves into dandyism with an account of the immortal Beau Brummel. Timbs notes that aside from being a famously snappy dresser, Brummel could also be a sly little bastard:

Brummel was addicted to practical jokes, one of which may be related. The victim was an old French emigrant, whom he had met on a visit to Woburn or Chatworth, and into whose hair-pouch he managed to introduce some finely powdered sugar. Next morning the poor Marquis, quite unconcious of his head being so well-sweetened, joined the breakfast table as usual; but scarcely had he made his bow and plunged his knife into the Perigord pie before him, than the flies began to desert the walls and windows to settle upon his head. The weather was exceedingly hot; the flies of course were numerous, and even the honeycomb and the marmalade upon the table seemed to have lost all atraction for them.... the buzzing grew louder and louder every moment. Matters grew worse when the sugar, melting, poured down the Frenchman's brow...

Inevitably, this ends with the Marquis running out of the dining hall pursued by an immense swarm of crazed bugs, and the hoots of his fellow diners. And I suppose this might not be the first time that trick was pulled in that household -- Beau's grandfather, after all, was a pastry chef.

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