Dandies are all about standing out and doing it themselves. It’s fitting really as dandies came about in late 18th and early 19th century England. These gentlemen were often wealthy individuals who had worked their way up the social food chain but were stopped by the invisible glass ceiling of the aristocracy. Dandies weren’t taken seriously because they were upstarts, rank amateurs and newbies at the game of conspicuous spending.
As a reaction, since they couldn’t buy their way into respectability they put on the trappings of the respectable. This meant refined manners, extravagant outfits and the constant pursuit of personal pleasure in order to mimic, sometimes even poke fun of, the mindset and attitudes of the upper class.
What made dandies? Being fashion forward helps. Indeed, appearance is everything to the quintessential dandy. Charles Baudelaire, a contemporary of dandies when they were at their height in the mid 19th century, makes the extravagant claim that being a dandy constituted elevating your physical appearance and surroundings to the most refined as a form of religion.
While that may be a bit extreme, the sentiment is certainly accurate. Dandies dressed immaculately as a way to impress and earn respect that they otherwise were denied by their social better. Even today, calling someone a dandy still conjures up images of someone who is too fancy for their own good.
Speaking of today’s dandies, whatever happened to these well tailored gentlemen of the 19th century? For the most part, the dandies sense of style and dress ebbed as monetary wealth grew and grew in importance. Showing off with such displays fell out of fashion. Conspicuous consumption gravitated away from waistcoats and trousers and turned to yachts, mansions and automobiles.
The sense of style dandies brought to the table, however, emerges once in awhile as flamboyant dressers occasionally nab the headlines through an outrageous garment. It is easy to see many of the counterculture groups hailing from Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, such as the Mods, as having a very dandified aesthetic. While out of fashion, the term dandy is very much alive today.