Dandy fashion has existed for several centuries, so it can’t rightly be called a new trend in men’s fashion. However, modern gentlemen are returning to many of the elements of dandy fashion that largely fell by the wayside over the past decade or so. The modern man isn’t content to merely get dressed each morning; he embraces fashion as a form of self-expression and even as an extension of self. He understands the importance of quality in clothing and appreciates the small details—clever stitching, perfectly coordinated colors, or that one standout accessory that elevates an outfit to an art form.
The history of dandy fashion
Dandyism has a long and rich history dating back to the eighteenth century. The overall vibe of dandyism has changed over the centuries, becoming more outrageous in some incarnations and more reserved in others, but the guiding principle of great style runs through all of them. Famous historical gentlemen like George Bryan “Beau” Brummell (1778–1840) epitomized the dandy aesthetic with their rigorous attention to grooming and dressing. (It’s said that Brummell took up to five hours to dress each day, though he prided himself on appearing as though it took no time at all.)
At one time, dandyism was comprised heavily of excessive styles: lots of velvet, lace, jewelry, and even wigs, as seen on the fashionable young Parisians and Londoners who helped launch dandy fashion. Over the years, however, dandy fashion has come to be associated less with over-the-top dressing, and is now typically used to mean any man who appreciates fashion and enjoys expressing himself through his sartorial choices. Some dandies dress to stand out from the crowd, while others opt for a more understated sort of elegance with muted colors and minimal ornamentation.
Some dandy gentlemen are heavily influences by historical dandy fashion, as seen in novels like The Picture of Dorian Grey or The Great Gatsby. However, some dapper gentlemen embrace a modern spin on the style, and you may spy a dandy dresser sporting an impressive (but well-groomed) beard, gauged earrings, or a tasteful and meaningful tattoo. This fusion of rebellion into classic style is yet another way the modern man may choose to stand out from the crowd, style-wise.
What defines dandy fashion?
The hallmark of dandy fashion is impeccable tailoring. While the overall style encompasses a range of garments suitable for a variety of occasions, they are all well-cut and show remarkable attention to detail. If it looks good and fits well, then it’s acceptable; anything with poor tailoring or slipshod finishing is out. Tailoring is so vital to a dandy because his clothes are an expression of his self; how he wears these garments conveys to the world that he takes pride in his appearance and, by extension, his own person. He has confidence and accordingly his garments should be spot-on to match.
Bear in mind that the dandy man does not overdress. His flair for the fashionable doesn’t lead him to over-accessorize, nor does he feel the need to pursue fashion trends simply to stay “in style”. Some dandy gentlemen opt for a style that may appear flamboyant to the untrained eye, but it is really the careful cultivation of textures, colors and other details. Don’t be afraid of the careful mixing of textures, colors and patterns; the overall effect can be quite artful when done carefully.
Generally speaking, the dandy gentleman does not “dress down”. He would certainly not be caught in public in sweatpants, and it’s unlikely he spends much time in casual clothing. Whether he’s attending a black tie event or spending a leisurely Sunday brunching with friends, his outfit will be carefully coordinated yet calculated to look as though it takes him no effort at all to appear so pulled together. When this gentleman does reach for denim, it will be a carefully tailored pair with a crisp button-down, belt, blazer, and his most stylish shoes. Most of the time, though, he will probably eschew denim for a more refined fabric like linen or corduroy.
Classic elements of dandy style include items like a trench coat, cuff-links, blazers, scarves, and well-tailor pants. Depending on the occasion, you may also find elegant hats, gloves, vests, wing-tip shoes, or even a leather jacket. Fabrics like silk, linen and tweed are in heavy rotation.
Dandy fashion on a budget
A dandy gentleman need not fill his wardrobe with bespoke suits to look dapper. If you’re building a dandy wardrobe on a budget, consider a high-low mix of pieces from brands like Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, Tommy Hilfiger, Cole Haan and Banana Republic. Also, invest in a quality tailor; even off-the-rack clothing can be made to look and fit like custom apparel with a few tweaks from a talented tailor. A tailor can also add those little details, like custom top-stitching or buttons, that subtly enhance the appearance of an otherwise plain piece of clothing.
Accessories are an excellent way for a gentleman to expand his wardrobe at a low cost. Cashmere scarves are cheaper than sweaters and can be mixed with a variety of other pieces to create multiple outfits. (Dandy travel tip: they also maximize your wardrobe without taking up too much room in your suitcase!) A new waistcoat in an eye-catching color, pattern or fabric will cost much less than a new blazer, so stick to a few blazers in neutral colors and textures and enhance them with a variety of vests underneath. A blazer in black or navy wool is an excellent choice for winter, while cream or grey linen or summer wool is perfect for warmer months.
One mistake that a gentleman of style should never make is skimping on quality in order to acquire a larger wardrobe more quickly. Cheap fabrics look and feel, well, quite cheap. Buttons that are not stitched on securely will quickly go missing; poorly finished seams are apparent to the naked eye and can spell disaster after a few washes. It’s better to limit your sartorial choices and wear only quality pieces, then add in a few new items at a time as your budget permits.
Dandyism is about more than your clothing; the dandy gentleman also pays careful attention to his grooming and is immaculate in appearance. A dandy gentleman would never be caught with unkempt hair or an untrimmed beard; he will maintain his hair cut, color and style as well as any facial hair.
The dandy man also invests in quality grooming products such as signature cologne, a good quality cream to keep his hands in tip-top shape, and facial serums or eye creams to preserve a fresh, youthful complexion. For a dandy, there is no such thing as being too invested in personal hygiene.
Some dandy gentlemen will wear cosmetics to enhance their features. A department store makeup counter can help you color-match lightweight foundations and concealers for redness or dark undereye circles.
For further reading
If you’re new to the concept of dandy fashion and want to learn more, pick up the book Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion, by Kate Irvin and Laurie Anne Brewer. Irvin and Brewer are the curators of the exhibit at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum that inspired the book; through art and essays they explore the history, culture and ever-changing trends buried within dandy fashion.