John Clubbe, the author of ‘Bend it Like Byron: The Sartorial Sublime’, an 18-page PDF document published by Erudit, starts off with some interesting insights about Beau Brummell, Lord Byron, and Napoleon Bonaparte, linking them sartorially during their time and with later dandies, like David Beckham:
Byron liked being linked with Brummell and Napoleon. In fact, along with Hazlitt and Thackeray he made the association himself. He told Brummell he regarded him “as one of the great men of the nineteenth century.” Evaluating his contemporaries, he placed “himself third, Napoleon second, and Brummell first.” The ranking would have pleased Brummell, but so generous an estimate by Byron of Brummell’s greatness — what can he mean? I have come to think Byron astonishingly prescient. He and Napoleon play leading roles in the Romantic Sublime, but if we ponder what I delight in calling the Sartorial Sublime we discover that Byron gauged well the contemporary fame — and even presaged the future significance — of George Bryan (“Beau”) Brummell.
While Brummell’s fame as a dandy is still widely known, many have forgotten Lord Byron’s obsession with dress and with the dandy’s attitude of studied boredom, indifference and disdain. His calculated approach to language and style placed him squarely in the pantheon of dandies. J. B. Priestey wrote about dandyism, saying: “In its indifference to serious matters and its intense focus upon trivia, Regency dandyism was a half-defiant, half humorous way of life. There was in it a good deal of poker-faced impudence.” (The Prince of Pleasure and the Regency.) As Mr. Clubbe writes, “Brummell did not concern himself with vulgar politics or economic matters.” This attitude, along with his fastidiousness and obsession with detail in dress, set him apart from other men and drew the Prince Regent’s admiration.
According to Clubbe, Napoleon Bonaparte shrewdly used clothes and dress to stage his ambitions. His private secretary wrote that the general was always impeccably dressed, even when marching. While Bonaparte was instantly recognizable by the simplicity of his attire, his use of clothes in ceremonial state of affairs was another matter. Bonaparte’s garments of robes and ermine could “rival in opulent grandeur those of the Sun King himself.”
Dandyism in its varying forms survives intact today. Clubbe links David Beckham’s modern forays into fashion with Brummell’s, but that he has yet to achieve that seemingly effortless style and attitude towards fashion. This article is well worth reading for its insights and information. (See link below.) In addition I added more links about Beau Brummell and dandies of his age, and highly recommend a visit to Dandyism.net, which I regard the premier dandy web site.
More links about dandies:
- Beau Brummell: Don’t let the title of this blog (On Kayaks) fool you. This is a comprehensive post about the Beau.
- Beau Brummell: King of Fashion: Dandyism.net: More about Beau Brummell on this premier dandy site.
- The Parks of London: Dandyism.net: This post includes an interesting verbal portrait of Beau Brummell.
- Dutch exhibit of The Life of a Dandy: 1800 till the present: This exhibit makes similar points as John Clubbe’s article, only visually. You do not need to read Dutch to understand the gist of this exhibit.