He then began his life as a stylish gentleman in his houses in Chesterfield and Chapel Streets in London and was a member of Brooks's and White's on St. James's Street, the most exclusive gentlemen's clubs of his day in an elite founded on the principle of exclusivity. Brummell lived above his means, but his association with the Prince of Wales and his personal sense of style and cutting wit assured him a privileged place among the fashionable set.
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Many anecdotes mythologize his life, and though there is speculation as to his possible homosexuality, he was never linked specifically with a man or a woman, which the writer Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly took as a sign of his narcissism. In the second decade of the nineteenth century he fell out with the Prince Regent, and his creditors became more insistent. On 16 May he left Britain for Calais, France, because of his mounting debts and spent his last twenty-four years as an impoverished exile in Calais and then in Caen, Normandy, where he finished his life in a sanatorium.
Brummell's dress was austere and elegant. It was not flamboyant or extravagant but consisted of impeccably clean linen and finely tailored clothes. As Captain William Jesse who published his biography in noted and Robert Dighton's portrait of illustrates, "His morning dress was similar to that of every other gentleman-top boots and buckskins, with a blue coat and a light or buff coloured waistcoat….
His dress of an evening was a blue coat and white waistcoat, black pantaloons which buttoned tight to the ankle, striped silk stockings and opera hat.
The casual equestrian origins of his dress challenged courtly protocol and heralded the pared-down simplicity of masculine attire in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Even in his lifetime Brummell was becoming a figure of fiction.
Du dandysme et de George Brummell
A wide range of anecdotes and sayings were attributed to him. Russelton, a thinly disguised Brummell figure, boasts that he employs three tradesmen to make his gloves: "one for the hand, a second for the fingers, and a third for the thumb! It celebrates Brummell's dandyism as a spiritual achievement of the highest order and raises the dandy's status to that of the poet or artist.
This text shifts the terrain of dandyism to a superior intellectual and philosophical ground. Later nineteenth-century texts highlighted the artistic nature of the dandy and his cultivation of both his environment and his dress as works of art. These literary interpretations preserved the heritage of Brummell through the nineteenth century and brought him, transformed, to twentieth-century audiences.
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In the first half of the twentieth century, his life would be reenacted in new venues, in the theater and on the silver screen. The playwright Clyde Fitch was commissioned by the matinee idol Richard Mansfield to write a play based on Brummell's legend. An illustrated version of the play was published in and remained popular into the second decade of the century. Three Hollywood films loosely based on Fitch's play were made in the first half of the twentieth century.
The first, just sixteen minutes long and directed by and starring James Young, was released in The second film, produced by Warner Brothers in , was a star vehicle for John Barrymore. Woolen broadcloth began to replace silk; gold and silver embroidery gradually disappeared from male attire; and hair powder became increasingly less fashionable, for political, social, and aesthetic reasons.
At the time, commentators often assumed that these fashion choices were reflective of right-wing, counterrevolutionary sentiments. More recent analyses e. Amann notes that the Incroyables in particular took an ironic attitude toward fashion choices; they liked to sport with public expectations that certain clothing elements had political ramifications, while simultaneously asserting that the meaning of these elements was solely aesthetic At this same moment George Brummell moved to London and became an intimate friend of the Prince of Wales.
Like his older brother, he was educated at Eton. After a brief stint at Oxford, Brummell moved to London, where he became a member of the elite Tenth Hussars, under the command of the Prince of Wales himself. Using the royal friendship to ingratiate himself with the leaders of the ton , Brummell became the arbiter of elegance in London society. Once in this lofty position, his ingratiating qualities were overtaken by a combination of arrogance and world-weary cynicism. Despite this clearly privileged background, it pleased Brummell to pretend that his origins were more obscure than they really were.
He promoted this fantasy in order to construct a carefully crafted myth of himself as his own creation, a man from nowhere who suddenly emerged as the leader of high society. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the Brummell legend grew. For the two centuries before Austen, elite male fashion primarily served to display wealth and position by employing such materials as imported silks and dyes, covering up bad physical health practices with such garments as voluminous cloaks and widely skirted coats, and masking bad personal hygiene with such products as powder and perfume.
Caricature of Beau Brummell , by Richard Dighton Brummell developed his sartorial style from a variety of sources and influences. From the post-Revolutionary Muscadins , Brummell adopted high-tied cravats and an emphasis on cut rather than decoration. From the Incroyables , he appropriated quizzing glasses—single magnifying lenses with handles, useful for observing and passing judgment—and an ironic stance toward social interaction.
In place of outmoded displays of luxury and excess, Brummell emphasized the elegance and simplicity of the line and cut of clothes. Moers also describes specifics of the Brummell style:.
Below the waist, form-following rather than form-fitting pantaloons tucked into Hessian boots cut almost to the knee. This elegant simplicity and cleanliness would have stood out amid any vestiges of color and luxury that still clung to the male wardrobe. The Brummell style could thus be described oxymoronically as ostentatious understatement. The Brummell color palette was radically different from the rainbow of hues previously available to the fashionable male, although Brummell preferred the Montem-inspired blue-and-buff combination to the stark black-and-white that would become standard evening dress a few years later Moers For Brummell and his imitators, the blue coat was suitable for all occasions, whether daytime or evening, and it became the most ubiquitous element of the Brummell-style wardrobe.
Brummell is known to have proclaimed four rules for personal hygiene:. Bathe daily. In the early nineteenth century, daily bathing—even for genteel English people—meant simply washing face, hands, and arms. Bathe in hot water. Eschew creams, lotions, powders, and scents. Brummell applied the same rules of simplicity to his toilette that he did to the design, cut, and color of his garments, refusing to douse himself with the stifling scents and lotions prized by young men and women of the day.
Brummell adopted this latter use of the quizzing glass to enhance his ability to give people a haughty once-over as he passed judgment on their appearance or manner. These numerous and possibly apocryphal statements continue both to amuse and unsettle. He claimed to have broken off a romantic entanglement with a woman when he found out that she ate cabbage Kelly Such ironic statements enable the dandy to be part of the exclusive society that is his only possible habitat while simultaneously mocking its follies Godfrey We have located no evidence that Jane Austen mentions Beau Brummell.
The first glimpse that the Bennet sisters can get of Mr. A group of young women, desperate to learn something, anything, about their potential suitor, have in fact learned nothing at all. He could be anyone. Later in the novel, Lydia expresses her desire that Wickham would wear his blue coat to their wedding In the London scene, these changes had a lot to do with the classically inspired style and prodigious promotional skills of Beau Brummell, which served to spread masculine fashion beyond the aristocracy.
In Mansfield Park Henry Crawford employs his wealth and charm in order to ingratiate himself with the Bertram family, skillfully disguising his lack of moral character. When the reader of Persuasion first encounters William Elliot, he already has the money he needs due to his marriage but is on a mission to insinuate or re-insinuate himself into the Elliot family to solidify his succession to the baronetcy. Perhaps the greatest example of this tendency is Frank Churchill in Emma.
In a revealing scene, Churchill, accompanied by Emma and Mrs. His acceptability as a citizen of Highbury is more important than which pair of gloves he decides to buy E It is perhaps significant that he does not single out any of them as unacceptable although he almost certainly has plenty of resources for sartorial purposes.
These three men display sufficiently excellent manners and also exploit their resources in order to ingratiate themselves with people from whom they have something to gain. On the other side of this spectrum are two characters who are in search of financial security in order to fund their extravagant lifestyles, John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility and George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice.
These two men are as ingratiating as the previous three and as invested in marshalling their charms for devious purposes. They are also both beneficiaries of one feature of the Brummell revolution. It would appear that for this characteristic to bear fruit, the purveyor must also possess wealth and be able to hold on to it. In pursuit of financial security, Willoughby achieves considerable affluence. Wickham does not. His vanity and unwarranted sense of superiority are Brummell-like, just as his self-reported cavalier treatment of Lord Courtland and Lady Elliott displays an arrogant tendency to order the aristocracy around It is not clear, however, that Robert is aware of his own shallowness; unlike Brummell, he is largely oblivious to the effect he has on others.
Insignificance might only befall one, whereas style. Brummell is known to have worked with his vendors to create and then popularize styles and designs. Robert Ferrars, like Sir Walter Elliot, cares about no one but himself. Even though Austen says almost nothing about how her male characters are dressed, Darcy can be seen as a Brummell-like character while Sir Walter Elliot reflects the pre-Brummell era.
The selection of Mr. For anyone who has been with apologies for the postmodern metaphor swimming in the tidal wave of Darcymania that has washed over Janeite popular culture for the past twenty years, it can be difficult to take a balanced, critical view of the character of Fitzwilliam Darcy. Darcy at the beginning of the novel is haughty, judgmental, even rude. Although perhaps not entirely qualifying as wit, a sampling of his pronouncements and reported opinions display a Brummell-like desire to distance himself from the social folly surrounding him:. Both Brummell and Darcy seem to understand the discrepancy between style manners and substance integrity , although Brummell delights in playing with those concepts, while Darcy does not.
Darcy is Brummell-like in his very sense of individuality. Like the Macaronis before them, these dandy figures were usually imagined as a group, as types rather than individuals. Earlier dandies had been, to a great extent, defined by their critics, through political speeches and pamphlets, satires, and cartoons. Brummell created his own persona.
On Dandyism and George Brummell | Revolvy
His reluctance to dance is partly a reluctance to engage in idle chitchat, partly an unwillingness to become part of the crowd. Unlike Brummell, however, Darcy will let personal feelings intrude. He will dance if it means dancing with Elizabeth, with whom he is falling in love, almost against his will, as he later confesses in the first proposal scene Darcy seems aware of the ambivalence Brummell himself felt about the paradox of standing out from the crowd through understatement.
Therein lies the challenge, not so much for men who choose the Brummell style, but for the people surrounding them. When most men of means start to dress quite similarly, individuals cannot be easily judged by appearances. By the time Pride and Prejudice was published, Elizabeth Bennet and her neighbors, confronted with the three gentlemen of Netherfield, must read their characters without reference to their fashion choices. Although Mr. Darcy is complex and opaque, it is safe to assume that they all dress in a similar fashion.
Would the narcissistic Sir Walter Elliot be a devotee of the Brummell style? Definitely not. Portraying Sir Walter as a pre-Brummell fop only serves to reinforce his status as a social dinosaur in a changing world. Beau Brummell Statue , by Irena Sedlecka