Man and His Eternal Quest for Style

It’s difficult to define dandyism; it’s a style which has come back time and again in various cultures. Some of you reading this may think of the “New Romantics” the likes of Adam Ant and Duran Duran, others might think of King George III’s son George the Prince Regent. You’re right in thinking these men and pop culture movements define the word dandy, but dandyism is something that has many definitions.

The Regal Dandy: George IV while Prince Regent by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, London.

To start at the beginning, there’s been a significant rise in men paying attention to how they look in the last 10 to 15 years, some commentators have said that this is a new phenomenon, but men paying attention to their appearance is nothing new. During the height of the Roman Empire, men adorned themselves in finely designed robes and jewellery, during the various Persian Empires, whether Zoroastrian or Muslim, the link between a man dressing in richly ornate clothes and promoting the power and prestige of himself and his family was a strong part of the culture.

Photo courtesy of Trend-Kid.

Masculinity in particularly is something which having style solidifies and healthily promotes, as it always has done. When a man begins taking an interest in how he looks, he’s rediscovering something that to his ancestors was an instinctive part of being a man.

Essentially, a stylish man, as opposed to a fashionable one, is someone who has an independent mind, takes pride in himself and above all dresses to please himself, not anyone else.

Photo courtesy of Indochino.

In the second decade of the millennium, dandyism, in my opinion, is a style that incorporates classical aesthetics, such as fine tailoring, masculine cuts and a particular colour palette, ranging from brooding reds, blues and purples etc to pastel shades like yellow, teal and pink.

Wanting to explore the varied opinions on what it means to adopt the dandy style, with a little help from the team at Pinterest, I found two men willing to talk about their definitions of dandy and why they find it so appealing.

Photo courtesy of Indochino.

Danny Hunter, a London based architect, says “personally speaking my style has always been a bit more traditional. I’ve long been attracted to the more tailored and, I suppose you could say, the more old-fashioned style.”

A distinct culture has evolved in the last 15 years, surrounding men’s style, with blogs, twitter accounts and magazines emerging thick and fast. “When I was growing up” Danny says “there wasn’t a single magazine I can think of that catered to men’s style exclusively, whereas now there is so much more exposure, with magazines like Arena Homme, Fantastic Man etc. It’s really permeated the mainstream, especially the dandy style, if you think of successful TV shows like Mad Men. It’s that classical aesthetic mixed with a bit of your own individuality that makes the dandy style so popular.”

Style Icon: Jon Hamm as Mad Men’s infamous Don Draper. Photo courtesy of AMC.

In our conversation, Danny touched upon the fact that previously to men’s fashion becoming as popular as it is today, it was gay men who were keeping the spirit of style alive, specifically in the 1990’s, when in reaction to the “Yuppie” era of the 80’s, mainstream fashion for men had become overly simplified and casual.

“If you consider the magazines I mentioned, they’re not geared towards a gay readership like they would have been say 15 years ago, their biggest market is straight men. It’s the straight men who are taking an unashamed interest in their appearance. Thinking about my straight friends, it’s become a tradition with them to spend time on e-commerce websites like Mr Porter and so on. I think there’s something universally appealing about the dandy style that whether you’re straight or gay, it’s easy to make your own.”

Photo courtesy of Indochino.

John van der Luit-Drummond, a legal journalist, sees the dandyism at different levels, saying “first and foremost it’s all about individuality. There are distinctly different levels of dandyism, you’ve got people on one level who are just very comfortable with their style, and want to be a little more individual in how they dress, and then you’ve got the other level where you have real “peacocking” chaps, who wear things that they think other people will like, to make a statement.”

“Personally, I sit more to the former end, where I stay very traditional, but have a few of my own little flares that I throw in, whether it’s a pocket square or a tie pin, just to stand out from the commuter drones going back and forth.”

Photo courtesy of Indochino.

It’s clear that individuality lies at the heart of dandyism, however with its rise to prominence, inevitably we’ve seen it mimicked on the high-street, which John sees as going completely against the whole ethos of dandyism. “For me it’s always just been trying to do things in the right way. I think a lot of people nowadays get caught up with high street trends that come out every couple of months, whether it’s really bad fitting skinny suits or something else along those lines. It just doesn’t look right to me, so I’ve always tried to remain very traditional and look how I think people should dress, while at the same time adding my own touch.”

“I think people are happy to buy what they think is right, in their local stores and not necessarily have any individualism of their own. Dandyism is about being comfortable with your own style, and trying things which are perhaps a little different. For me it’s about wearing things that look good, don’t necessarily offend anyone’s sensibilities and if it is something that is a bit out there, to compliment it with the past.”

Photo courtesy of Indochino.

Dandyism swings between being a style and philosophy in its self. It’s understandable that in our impersonal age, dandyism has emerged as a lightning rod for men who want to be individuals, simultaneously capturing the essence of a bygone era and embracing sartorial modernity.