The American Dandies and Fops History: Men With a Great Passion for Fashion, Style, and Art
The American Dandies and Fops History: Men With a Great Passion for Fashion, Style, and Art Research Paper
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Updated: Jan 9th, 2022
How dandies and fops came to America
Effects of dandies and fops on mens fashion and masculinity
According to Kimmel (38), dandies and fops are men with a great passion for fashion, style and art. These men are greatly concerned with physical appearance, leisurely hobbies and distinguished language, personalities that were associated with the aristocratic fashions and lifestyles. Dandies and fops are also commonly referred to as gallant or beau. Because of their extraordinary attention towards clothes, dressing, elegancy, style and fashion, they are basically seen as gentlemen and ideal men (Nathaniel, 14-20). Dandies and fops have been linked with aesthetical personality and wearing of clothes as a form of art. This paper delves into the 19th-century use of dandies and fops in the American fashion industry, how dandies and fops came to America, and their effects on American men and Masculinity.
Dandyism has been attributed to a broad range of fashions, styles, and identities of the masculine. The 19th century witnessed ascetically tailored men featuring as heroic figures of power in painted portraits (John, the Golden Age of the Dandy).In some form of paradox, the stylishly and opulently attired fops were more of figures of ridicule rather than heroic figures in the 19th-century culture of cartoons and caricatures (Kimmel, 38-59).
There was actually an ironic uncertainty between dandies and fops. While dandies were seen as historic and heroic figures, fops were seen as symbolical representations of men too concerned with clothes and physical appearance well beyond their perceived capabilities, making them appear foolish in a societal context (Kimmel, 38-59). A fop aspired to be of high social class well above what people believed was beyond him. In literature, fops have been used in drama where they represent stock characters because of their comic traits (Nathaniel, 14-20).
The fashion industry has encountered remarkably dynamic changes that have since shaped it to the current trends and designs. The dynamical changes have come about as a result of a series of events and people contributing to the fashion industry. In particular, historical events have significantly changed what originally existed into what people believed was more refined, creative, and elegant attires, the dandies and flops (Kimmel, 38-59). Whatever attires the antique generation found suitable and comfortable to themselves would later be found suitable and comfortable by others within that historical timeframe. This trend continued into other generations.
Dandies and fops were men who had rebelled against the laid down common rules which governed the fashion industry, bringing about change in the fashion arena which became the culture of the time (Kimmel, 38-59). The men that brought about changes in the field of fashion could not be stopped by normal trends or expectations of society. These men instead strived to stand out from their counterparts and peers and made a difference (Stephen, Robert Cruikshank Devastates Dandies).
Dandies were those people that had a completely different view of fashion and style culture. They shaped the fashion world by making their own fashion statements and being consistent with them until they were envied by others who strived to be like them. This caused some form of continuity to the fashion trend started by dandies at various times in history. Dandies who were also commonly known as fops among other cultures and names could vaguely be described as people who were bold enough to rebel against the fashionable trends of their time and stand out, thus bringing about significant changes in the culture of fashion in America (Stephen, Robert Cruikshank Devastates Dandies).
While the two terms were being used interchangeably and rather confusingly, they had a thin line separating them. Unlike flops, dandies were men that were more sober and refined in their dressing. This changed depending on how it suited the people at the time. These kind of dressing codes were influenced by needs and activities needs and activities people engaged in and continued to exist as long as the styles and fashions were embraced and well perceived. Fashion statements that were considered sober and practical ended up lasting longer than the ones that were merely a persons way of seeking for recognition. Both dandies and fops, or dandies and fops anyway, were men with an overemphasized sense of fashion in America. They made fashion statements that others in their time found worthy to take over and ensure the continuity (John, the Golden Age of the Dandy).
How dandies and fops came to America
The early 19th century saw different individuals from middle to upper class in the American society consciously or unconsciously makes fashion statements that would go a long way in modeling the fashion industry. The dandyism fashion, originally from England spread with the speed of an epidemic across the European continent slowly affecting France, Italy, America among other European nations. Dandyism was represented by stylish, well dressed and well mannered men who were unusually well groomed (John, the Golden Age of the Dandy).
The origin of dandyism although having many sources, can commonly be traced back to George Bryan born in 1778 to an English butler famously known as Beau Brummell (Fashion Encyclopedia, the Dandy Fashion, Costume, and Culture). His fashion of well cut was famously known as Beau Brummell. Beau Brummells extremely white linen shirts, loose trousers and carefully polished shoes set the pace for the current gentleman. The current gentleman is the picture of a perfect man having everything perfectly put in place. This ranges from his walking style, his elegant dressing style, his hairstyle or head gear to the games he play, his hobbies and the places he hangs out (Kimmel, 38-59).
Beau Brummells simplicity and elegance made a fashion proclamation of their own by merely being able to stand out from people around him and having a consistency with his style and fashion (Fashion Encyclopedia, the Dandy Fashion, Costume, and Culture). This seemed to be the trend of dandies and fops who could never be seen with a style different from their own creation, thus making a fashion statement. The dandies and fop, who decided to take up Beau Brummells style apart from adopting the name Beau before their own names, were also elegant and neat making their fashion styles in their own ways (Kimmel, 38-59).
Prior to Beau Brummell dominating the 1960s was the Macaroni Club (Kimmel, 38-59). This was a group of Englishmen who had everything needed to make a fashion statement. They had wealth and youth on their side. The dandies and fops stood out by their uniqueness that set them apart from the other young men of their time. They all had flashy and extravagant golden jewelry to accessorize their dressing; walking sticks designed to stand out and could always be found with their unique accessories when in public places. If there was one thing that made dandies and fops that they were, it was because of their uniqueness and consistency. Most dandies later adopted the name Beau from their founder Beau Brummell (Kimmel, 38-59).
The beginning of the 19th century actually witnessed the birth of an entire new breed of dandies, the dandizette in America. Their devotion to fashion, fabric, elegance and clothing was the same as that of their male counterparts. The dandizette was the female version of the dandy. Unlike their male counterparts who operated by individual whims to create fashion statements that made them dandies, females had rules (John, the Golden Age of the Dandy). The dandizette obtained her code of conduct and guidelines from the founding queen of fashion, a Lady of distinction. Ladies of distinction had laid down rules for young women to mature matrons. The guidelines would also go from morning wear, evening wear, dinner wear, and clothing for outdoors and indoors to how long the sleeves and the accompanying gloves would go on the arm.
This era of dandyism in America also did not leave the children behind. Children were involved in the fashion evolutions of the time. Their fashions were made to resemble that of their older version, therefore making the process in miniature adults. Children could make in their dandies and fops with the intention of upholding high standards of cleanliness, neatness and perfection. This was an extremely hectic schedule for a child but it was made possible by their care takers. This dandy trend made it easy to distinguish a child from upper social class, middle social class to the lower social class of peasants who were mostly servants. The younger girls despite having to be the miniature women were given a distinction. They were to wear softer colors of the fabrics they wore. These softer colors were to include pink, yellow and other soft colors. These contrasted with the colors of the fabrics worn by the matronly older women. The older women could wear dark colors like black and purple (John, the Golden Age of the Dandy).
Dandies and fops lived to create their fashions and aesthetics by going beyond the fashion trends of the time while the dandizette spent their lives obeying every rule in the fashion book in order to keep up the prevailing culture of fashion (Fashion Encyclopedia, the Dandy Fashion, Costume, and Culture).The dandies could afford to be more rebellious since during that time they were not governed by as many rules as their female counterparts were. This could be because during that time in the period between 18th century, and 19th century, there were no female empowerment policies that would result from the later days evolution to bring gender equality.
Effects of dandies and fops on mens fashion and masculinity
Dandyism is the fashion trend, culture behavior, mindset or characteristic that was attributed to the individuals or people who were considered dandies and fops or who considered themselves so. Dandyism is basically the evolution of the western culture with a particular bias in the male fashion. The word dandy only briefly included women in the early 19th century with the coming of terms like quaint which evolved from coint that represented the meticuility and perfection of its subjects (Kimmel, 38-59). The term dandy, however, latter would only stand for males who were extremely elegant and perfect. It could represent the origin of striving for male perfectionism which brought about many debates and opinions on which the perfect male was the masculine man or the elegant delicate male.
Dandy males have evolved in three stages since their conception in the late 18th century. According to Kimmel (38-50), the birth of dandies in America in the late 18th century was shown in the period between 1760s and 1780s with fashion legends like Beau Brummell and the Macaroni club representing the dandy dynasty. The dandy breeds of this time were brought out by their physical appearances that were orderly stylish, glossy, including their waxed hair, white linen shirts with collars and very tight breeches (Kimmel, 38-59). These were men who walked with canes and never left their snuff box behind. The men in this dandy era were meticulous and consistent in their fashion. They were after developing the portrait of the perfect male outfit that represented their inbuilt mindset of perfectionism (John, the Golden Age of the Dandy). They showed high discipline like the medieval women having different outfits for different functions.
A typical dandy man would have more than three outfits in a normal day. Like their female counterparts they would have clothes for the outdoors, indoor clothes. They would also have to change in order to attend different events during their day. These would range from ridding, travelling, strolling and attending parties and meals. These outfits were made complete with their own accessories which include canes or walking sticks, pocket watches and snuff boxes. Their accessory would vary with their dress code making their days to be quite hectic. These men also had a particular taste for clothes making them have so many clothes in their possession(Kimmel, 38-59).
Before the dandy males came into existence we had the pre dandy era. These were men who gave birth to the dandy men. These men together with their cultures and customs existed before the American dandies and fops and became their forerunners. Some, however, existed along with the dandy and fops men since they could not embrace the dandy culture. These were extremely conservative men who were rigid in exploring new fashion trends. They were men who were spotted wearing powdered wigs. These men could be told apart by their unfashionable Tricorne and bicorne hats.
The pre dandy males existed in the period of early 18th century and the time before it. The men never took much interest in their looks. Their extremely lacy and embroidered clothing were completed by breeches that were short and could not reach the level of the boots they wore. These formed the most of the pre dandy fashions in the late 18th century up to the early 19th century, abandoning fashion for more serious and conserved men, who were either too old to enjoy new fashion or too busy and preoccupied to start chasing the whims of enticing fashion trends (Kimmel, 39-50)
Post dandyism era was symbolized with the ridicule associated with the term dandy, that is, the fops. A fop was seen as person seeking extreme superiority over the people around him. He strives to show this by setting himself apart by living a lavish lifestyle (Stephen, Robert Cruikshank Devastates Dandies). The lifestyle of fops was characterized by wearing of clothes according to an event and a time of the day or continually carrying around their princely canes and snuff boxes which was considered as showing off. Though this behavior was more refined to the high class personalities only, it spread to middle class (Kimmel, 38-59). The traits of all fop individuals were that of high class people seeking to set themselves apart from the other normal people and somehow be superior to them. This notion caused men to start swaying from dandyism with most of them seeing the lifestyle of a dandy as extremely hectic. They probably found it hard to keep up with the lifestyle of having to move between several changes of clothes for different occasions in a day, carrying their snuff boxes and canes everywhere a little too stressing for the ordinary man. Dandyism came with being extreemely neat, clean, organized and had a high price tag of extreme discipline (John, the Golden Age of the Dandy).
The men in post dandyism era may have failed to appreciate the fact that the dandy and fop men like Beau Brummell made important contributions to the current fashion culture and trend that is no longer considered dandy or flop. An example being the tailored suits and collars fixed on shirts that were as a result of dandies being obsessed with neatness and cleanliness. The hairstyle also changed from powdered wigs to sleek oiled hair. To some extent the modern male fashion is a careful merge between the dandy man and the pre dandy male (John, the Golden Age of the Dandy). This has been done with sober practicality to avoid the extreme characteristics that brought these groups to extinction and picking only the practical bits that fit in their activities and needs.
Evolution of the dandizette has on the other hand seen the confused shift between overdressed and underdressed. The confusion is because the dandizette in the era of dandyism considered wearing clothes covering the neck up to the chin as being overdressed at specific times according to instructions from the lady of distinction. In the contemporary society, this can be deems as exposure of the area extremely below the neck as being under dressed. The question therefore remains when is too little too much or too much too little. Different societies and eras in time tend to have their unique definitions of these two confusing terms in the female and male fashion evolution, too little or underdressed, or too much or overdressed(John, the Golden Age of the Dandy).
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The trends over the years seem to have borrowed so much from the dandy pioneers, especially Beau Brummell who can be safely considered as the father of fashion. Beau Brummell in his fashion statements of his time stressed on simplicity, neatness and cleanliness of whatever fashion one saw well (Kimmel, 38-59). His own touch of consistency brought out what the today fashion conscious individuals seem to strive for, the aspect of making your fashion statement your personality. According to (John, the Golden Age of the Dandy) his perfectly tailored breeches well shone boots, white linen shirts that was bleached by only specific launders he himself figured. This was a man who was extremely meticulous, organized, and very neat. He left no room for errors in his life as well as in his clothing, an icon of reference to the subsequent American generation of the male gender and culture (Kimmel, 38-59).
The fops could be considered to be people who had some sort of psychological issues. These people would strive to obtain superiority by their actions and after being superior would emphasize this fact. They now obtained this psychological satisfaction by using their speech, mannerism, and behavior to show their superiority. They eventually showed off their superiority by having a specific style of dressing and changing quite often only to show people exactly how superior they were. Most fops were therefore likely to be extremely rich or influential people. Apart from this enabling them to keep up their dandy lifestyle, it helped them to exert their influence on people. The people found to be dandies or fops were more often than not political leaders of their time, noble men, kings and princes and extremely rich people, some were considered lords.
The dandies that came after Beau maintained the standards he had set for cleanliness, neatness and order and in their own ways found new tricks of standing out but remaining elegant and reserved. The dandies and fops were also always cool, conserved and somehow aloof. They had trained themselves to have cool mannerism in their speech, actions and general behavior. They would rarely break their manners and always maintained a distance and cold attitude towards others around them. They practically worshiped themselves and viewed virtually anything less of themselves as useless.
These people with their behavior and mannerisms had great influences on the current view of a fashionable individual. The todays world that seeks perfectionism models after the medieval dandy is represented by a man who places more importance on appearance.
American men of today are perhaps not aware of the fact that they are constantly modeling after the medieval dandy who they publicly dislike but privately worship. Be it the modern day lawyer, the business man or even the student, they all strive to be dandies subconsciously and condemn the behavior of dandies consciously. Like wisely, the female fashion-stars can attribute their current trends to medieval women that saw evolution of female wear and clothing to dressings that were as comfortable as they were fashionable. Unlike their male counterparts, female trends have been more rigid, being governed by some rules and guidelines to be followed.
Fashion Encyclopedia. The Dandy Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. Advameg, Inc.
John, Peale. The Golden Age of the Dandy: Vanity Flair. Dandyism.net.
Kimmel, Michael. The History of Men: Essays on the History of American and British Masculinity. SUNY Press.2005.pg 38-59.
Nathaniel, Parker. The New York Mirror: A Weekly Gazette of Literature and the fine Arts. Vol 1.G.P. Morris: University of Chicago.2009.pg.14-20.
Stephen, Gertz. Robert Cruikshank Devastates Dandies. David Brass Rare Books. 2010.
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