Sunday, 12 March 2017

Return of the Dandy 1966


Ruffles foaming over the shirt-fronts of dinner-jackets and lace spilling out of the sleeves, tight-fitting pants, worn by young men who will demand 20 sittings at a tailor to be sure that the length of the vent is just so, that the trouser leg moves an inch bell-wise at the bottom!  There are tales of Beau Brummell and Oscar Wilde, interviews with David Mlinaric, Patrick Lichfield and Rupert Lycett-Green of Blades. Musings on Pop Stars, Photographers, Hung On You, custom made shirts by the dozen and much more...it's all here, in this excellent in-depth 6 page feature on dandyism, originally published in 1966.





                                                            RETURN OF THE DANDY
Ruffles foam over the shirt-fronts of the dinner-jackets and lace spills out of the sleeves. Velvet pantaloons, which would have raised eyebrows if seen on men three years ago, attract hardly a glance anymore. The jackets are increasingly waisted, flare sharply over the hips and are getting almost Edwardian in length. The trousers fit so tightly that the more extreme ones are hard to sit down in and look best only when the man in them is standing almost at attention. There has not been such elegance, style and boldness in men's clothes in London since Oscar Wilde. The new wave of English dandyism started, most people agree, about five years ago. Young David Mlinaric, a designer, and one of the best dressed young men in London, thinks pop music had a good deal to do with it. ''The pop singers have the panache of the movie stars in the thirties. The pop singers and designers and film stars dress adventurously - and the others have followed them. Also, people today are more interested in young people than ever before - and they copy what the young people do.''

Patrick Lichfield, another of the best dressed young English men, thinks that the adventurousness of people's occupations has a lot to do with their clothes. He himself is an Earl, but he's also a photographer. ''Many people,'' he points out, ''are still stuck in environments like the city where conservative dress is absolutely required. But these days film stars, pop singers, hairdressers, photographers have all become respectable people. People like us can dress as we like: we can experiment. If a duke wandered into a cocktail party without a tie, people would find it odd, but if a film star did it, he'd be accepted. Presently, the duke might even follow suit.''

The revolution in men's clothes has even deeper roots than that. All the great periods of dandyism have occurred in periods of revolutionary upheaval in the pecking order of society. The Regency dandies followed the Napoleonic wars, a period when the monarchy and aristocracy were despised and a new middle class was beginning to emerge. The French wave of dandyism (strictly an import from England) followed the Revolution of 1830, again with a great levelling of social barriers. The Edwardian dandies followed the industrial revolution when the money and power structure shifted from the landed aristocracy to the new industrial magnates. The new dandies of today are living in an age when the caste system in England is breaking down at both top and bottom.








Like Nicholas Hilliard's Elizabethan dandy, today's dandy, Dennis Stansfield (above), looks effective in a rural setting. Stansfield, a 20-year old commercial artist, designs his own clothes and has a tailor in Tooting. His sister-in-law makes his shirts.


The greatest of all dandies, Beau Brummell, was the most scornful of men. (''You can't call that thing a coat?'') He had no title, no fortune, no professionnot even a carriage; he had nothing but a superb arrogance and assurance and presence; with these weapons alone he was copied, quoted, much feared, greatly respected, and wielded very real power. When the Prince Regent (who became George IV) broke with him, he remarked disdainfully of the future monarch: ''I made him what he is today and I can unmake him.'' This Brummellian scorn and self-assurance is very much a part of the make-up of the young pop set. The young film stars, photographers, models, designers and pop singers don't give a damn what their fathers or you or I or anyone else think of their far-out clothes or their far-out behaviour. Albert Camus has called the dandy the archetype of the human being in revolt against society. Almost always the dandy is thumbing his nose at the rest of the pack. The great Beau himself, some of his admirers think, was in the privacy of his own heart, mocking the very dandyism for which he was admired.











Lichfield, when I talked to him, had just come out of his dark-room, dressed casually in a polo-necked sweater and corduroy trousers. Lichfield looks well turned out in even the most casual clothes. ''Some people dress with flair alone.'' he says. I think Mlinaric is the best dressed man I know. Some of his effects are sheer audacity. I saw him one night in evening suit with a marvellous ruffled shirt. I admired it and he told me he'd just pinned some ruffles on a plain white shirt. It looked great.'' Lichfield admits he spends ''a fortune'' on his clothes, and says that some of his suits are total failures. ''I wear them two or three times, then never again.'' We toured his wardrobe. Twenty-six suits. ''I like brown suits very much.'' Many of today's young dandies like brown. ''Tweeds for the country.'' He showed a grey wooly one. ''I like big buckles.'' He showed me one immense silver one on a black belt. ''I think these buckles are going to be very fashionable. I love suede coats.'' He has four of varying cut. ''For shooting...'' He brought out a pair of bottle-green corduroy breeches. ''I've ordered all my gamekeepers to wear these.''

He opened a drawer packed with sweaters. ''I have a lot of polo-necked jerseys, mostly green and beige. They cost me a fortune in cleaning because you can only wear them two or three times. Now here's my most precious possession...'' He pulled out a pair of worn, patched and splendidly faded Levis. ''If the house was burning down, this is what I'd rescue first. The rest of my clothes can be replaced but it takes years of wear to get that lovely patina. American trousers are the only things I buy ready-made.'' He has 50 shirts, most of them custom-made from Harvie & Hudson at £6 apiece. When a shirt catches his fancy, he may buy one and ship it to Hong Kong to be copied by the dozen in silk. He has about 50 ties, many of the patterned pastel type which is very with it at the moment, but he also likes severely plain black knitted ties. He takes very good care of his clothes and is exasperated by people who don't. ''I know people who throw clothes on the floor that have cost them a fortune.'' He has an electric trouser-press in his bedroom which presses his trousers while he's in the bath (the jacket hangs itself out as part of the gadget). ''I haven't had a suit pressed since I left the Army — but cleaning costs me a fortune.'' I don't understand people who dress simply to keep warm,'' says Lichfield. ''A man should enjoy his clothes. He dresses to attract the girls —unlike the girls, who dress to impress one another. I have an idea all men dress to be sexy like cock pheasants in the mating season. I always dress more carefully the first time I take a girl out than the second. English girls, I think, are more adventurous in their tastes than girls of other countries and they admire adventurously dressed men.''



Among the most adventurous is Mlinaric. Standing in the immense square drawing-room of his Tite Street house (another great dandy, Oscar Wilde, lived in this street, a block away), Mlinaric was wearing a brown (he too, likes brown) double-breasted jacket that buttoned almost to the neck, the lapels edged in black, with short sleeves in order to display the cuffs of the shirt. His suits, he said, were getting more brightly coloured. His latest, of which he expected much, was cinnamon-coloured. ''Clothes are my greatest extravagance,'' he says. ''I feel very strongly about the way clothes are stitched. I'm tremendously interested in the best materials as well as the cut. I think a great many of the Carnaby Street clothes are very badly put together and of poor material.''




Ted Dawson, male model, spends about £500 a year on clothes. His wardrobe includes 100 ties, 75 shirts, 30 suits, 14 jackets.




Above: The wonderful Michael Rainey 25, who designed all the clothes for his boutique Hung On You, discusses ties with journalist Christopher Gibbs. (extreme right).



How well dressed are today's young men in comparison with the great dandies of the past? Hardly within whistling distance, I think. Max Beerbohm, the last of the dandies, wrote of Beau Brummell: ''Is it not to his fine scorn of accessories that we trace the first aim of modern dandyism, the production of the supreme effort through means the least extravagant? In certain congruities of dark cloth, in the rigid perfection of lines, in the symmetry of the gloves with the hands, lay the secret of Mr Brummell's miracle. He ever was most economical, most scrupulous of means.'' None of today's dandies lives up to these uncompromising standards (nor did Beerbohm). Brummell himself would have nothing but freezing contempt for Carnaby Street.































The real dandies buy their suits at Blades in Dover Street. Eric Joy, the partner and chief designer, has a good deal of Brummellian scorn for most of the cutters and designers of Savile Row and thinks all mens clothes designed between 1914 and 1960 were a wasteland of mediocrity. ''Up to five years ago, masculinity was to be a good rugger player,'' he says scornfully. ''I thought it was about time we designed a collection that made men look like men, not bloody Daleks.'' He haunted the Victoria and Albert Museum for ideas. Many of the jackets are the modified descendants of military uniforms which are in fact the ancestors of many great English men's suits.'' Rupert Lycett Green, proprietor of Blades, a bit of a dandy himself (though he denies it), lists as a barely adequate wardrobe for a well-dressed man: two dinner jackets (silk for summer, worsted for winter), with perhaps a velvet evening suit to boot; one grey suit; one black suit; a couple of working suits, both comfortable and elegant; a country suit of lightweight tweed; two light summer suits; one travelling grey suit; one crushproof traveling suit for air travel and trains; three overcoats (one dark evening coat, one tweedy raglan type for country, one short for motoring or town wear); at least two sports or odd jackets; half a dozen assorted slacks or odd trousers; 50 shirts and 50 ties. Blades is opening its own shop in New York soon, but design there will be severely modified. The extreme dandyism quite acceptable in London still has strong homosexual implications in New York, and in fact everywhere else. London is years ahead of the rest of the world in having got rid of the homosexual overtones of dandyism. Most of today's English dandies are blatantly heterosexual.



Above: Rupert Lycett Green, proprietor of Blades where the best beaux are dressed, is opening a new shop in New York soon, but designs will be severely modified.


Historically, dandyism has had a homosexual tint only since its last flowering in the nineties, and you can blame Oscar Wilde for that. Most of the earlier dandies were conspicuously hetero — certainly the Regency rakes were. Brummell himself was thought to be glacially indifferent to women and sex and totally immersed in himself. The Victorian attitude toward dandies and dandyism was laid down originally by Thomas Carlyle in ''Sartor Resartus''. Before ''Sartor Resartus'', dandyism had been reasonably respectable, even admirable. However, Carlyle's Scottish puritanism so changed the emotional climate toward dandyism that Edward Bulwer Lytton  eliminated whole passages of ''Pelham'', his very successful novel about a dandy. Ever since Carlyle's outburst, dandies have been considered figures of fun, and since Wilde's day, probably homosexual.  Remnants of the Victorian disapproval are still with us. A recent article by John Morgan  in the New Statesman dripped with scorn about the new wave of dandyism which he called ''tedious to the point of tears.'' ''I find it impossible,'' he wrote, ''to make any emphatic leap into the nature of young men who will demand 20 sittings at a tailor to be sure that the length of the vent is just so, that the trouser leg moves an inch bell-wise at the bottom.'' Morgan also states in his article '' No one suffers from elegance but from the prose it produces,'' stating clearly that any writing about dandyism is a bore. This simply isn't true. Dandies and dandyism have a long and honourable literary tradition, both as authors and as subjects of novels and plays, some good, some appalling, but almost all enormously popular. ''Pelham'' by Bulwer and ''Vivian Grey'' by Benjamin Disraeli (himself a great dandy) were enormously popular; both had dandies as heroes.


Dandyism was one of the principal preoccupations of Stendhal in ''The Red and The Black'', though his own attitude toward the dandies is contradictory. Balzac, who considered himself a dandy though no one else did. wrote ''La toilette est l'expression de la societé.'' His ''Comedie Humaine'' was full of dandies. Baudelaire was not only a dandy but also a philosopher of dandyism — ''La culte de soi-meme'', as he called it. The novels of Dickens and of Thackeray (who loathed dandies) are full of dandies and the cult of dandyism. Pinero's and Shaw's plays are larded with dandies, and Wilde's plays, of course, consist of nothing else. ''Dorian Gray'' was dandyism at its most decadent and it has helped immeasurably to give dandyism a bad name. Within the last three years, the winds of disapproval have begun to abate. There are temperamental similarities and at the same time great differences between today's dandies and the bucks of the Regency. Most important, the present crop are conspicuously doers of things, like film making, hairdressing or acting. They are notoriously energetic and ambitious. The Regency dandy —especially Brummell —considered any form of activity except clothes to be beneath them. Beau, again probably in pure mockery, considered even the forming of an opinion slightly wearisome. Once, when a visitor asked which of the English lakes he thought most beautiful, he called the servant in: ''Which of the lakes do I find most beautiful?'' Brummell's wit would be admired by some of the avant-garde film-makers. He was not a man of mot or epigram. A shrug, a lifted eyebrow, sometimes nothing but the memory of a known Brummellian attitude made their own silent but devastating witticisms. When you can be witty without words, why use them?



                                    IMAGE CREDITS, LINKS & FURTHER READING
All images scanned by Sweet Jane from The Observer Magazine, May 1st, 1966. All photographs by Colin Jones from The Observer, *Except for photo No.6 Rainey/Gibbs an outtake of the original which I scanned from Boutique: A '60s Cultural Phenomenon by Marnie Fogg (purely to include the extra hand-painted tie which had been edited out of the magazine version), original article by John Crosby.  View some other examples of the return to dandyism in one of my previous posts, plus further examples of Blades tailoring and more here. You'll find a collection of Patrick Lichfield's 1960s photography work on Flickr. Read the transcript of a discussion about the future of the tailoring industry from a 1971 issue of The Tailor and Cutter, which includes some very sharp comments from the outspoken Eric Joy, partner/designer at Blades here, Further reading about The Eccentric Mr. Brummell here and more via the associated links on Dandyism.Net, where you will also find Dandies and Dandies By Max Beerbohm, (1896). Discover more about Sartor Resartus (meaning 'The tailor re-tailored') the 1836 novel by Thomas Carlyle, first published as a serial in 1833–34 in Fraser's Magazine, and you can read the aforementioned Chapter X. The Dandiacal Body here as well as Chapter XI. on Tailors. Check out Pelham; The adventures of a gentleman by Edward Bulwer-Lytton or watch The Picture of Dorian Gray, the 1945 film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's novel for free. It has of course been adapted for film & tv on numerous occasions since, you'll find a review of Massimo Dallamano's 1970 version set in Swinging London over on Dreams Are What Le Cinema Is For. And finally, no matter what they say..Dandy, you're all right.

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