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How clothes are the very essence of existence for dandies

erase repair haFASHION


By Phillip Mann (Head of Zeus £25)

To dandies, clothes are the very essence of existence.

The width of a turn-up, the angle of a breast pocket, an extra eighth-of-an-inch on the heel of a shoe: deliberating such matters with one's tailors could take ‘many hours of concentration', says Phillip Mann in this study of the ramifications of coat buttons and lapel-lengths.

The pioneer dandy, ‘the father of modern costume', was Beau Brummell, an Old Etonian who resigned a military commission when his regiment was posted to Manchester. Brummell refused to be seen dead there.

A friend of the Prince Regent, he went on parade instead in Mayfair gentlemen's clubs, decking himself in lace-trimmed, lavender-coloured velvet, patent leather shoes, silk stockings and knee breeches.

The pioneer dandy, ‘the father of modern costume', was Beau Brummell, an Old Etonian (pictured)

Sometimes he gave the impression he had impossibly long legs by wearing skin-tight pantaloons fastened around the foot with a strap. This was a forerunner of the trouser, which came in after Waterloo in 1815.

Beau lost heavily at the gaming tables and fled to France. Showing symptoms of syphilis, he was carted off to an asylum.

Mann makes the point that many a dandy declines and falls dramatically, as ‘the euphoria of fashion has its counterpart in dereliction, depression and existential anguish'.

An addiction to fancy dress can be a disguise for neurosis. The mania for fabrics and collars may never be appeased, particularly if the wearer doesn't actually much like himself. As Mann observes, ‘a perfectly fitting suit can't satisfy us if there are physical faults to correct or hide'.



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Share Edward VII's tailors had their work cut out camouflaging the monarch's girth — the tradition of leaving the bottom waistcoat button undone began because of Edward's fondness for pies.

Portly or not, however, he was a style icon, ‘the king of fashion'. Edward was responsible for the Homburg hat, shooting tweeds, cream flannels and the single-breasted blazer. He also insisted on a side-crease in his trousers.

His grandson, the future Duke of Windsor, provides Mann with his richest chapter. David, as his family called him, went in for loud checks and strident tweeds. Wishing to annoy his severe and starchy parents, George V and Queen Mary, he saw dandyism as ‘a means of subverting the role that had been assigned him'.

David wore double-breasted check suits and suede shoes in town, belts instead of braces and dinner jackets instead of tails. He had extra padding in his ties, to create the bulbous Windsor knot. He liked striped and coloured shirts. His exasperated father deemed all of this ‘an offence against decency'.

THE DANDY AT DUSK By Phillip Mann (Head of Zeus £25)

As Duke of Windsor he was proud to retain his slim Peter Pan figure into old age, but he never stopped being a dandy. His valet had to iron each shirt the moment before it was put on, to obviate any wrinkle. He wore midnight blue, never black.

Nancy Mitford said he fussed about his clothes because, in easy repair ha exile, there was nothing else requiring his attention.

Banished from Britain, the Duke had a surprising parallel in Quentin Crisp, who felt himself an embattled outsider because of his sexuality, which he expressed through gold sandals, a floppy hat and purple hair.

Crisp spent his 91 years perfecting a regal image. ‘I never did for long anything I didn't want to do — except grow old,' he stated. When he fell fatally ill, on tour in Beau Brummell's hated Manchester, he said, ‘I've outlived my wardrobe. I'm ready to die.'

Crisp did his utmost never to be mistaken for a businessman or an office worker, and in that respect resembled the best dressed man of the 20th century, Bunny Roger, upon whom the character of Steed in The Avengers was based.

Bunny was one of the Bright Young Things who, when offered a reward for getting into the rugby team at school, asked for a dolls' house, ‘which his father promptly provided'.

Bunny was sent down from Oxford for impersonating Gloria Swanson at parties. ‘He was far more beautiful than I ever was', said the real Swanson, when shown a photograph.

He never left the house without a skirted top-coat, gloves, mauve carnation, bowler hat and a tightly furled umbrella.

When a cabbie had the cheek to say: ‘ 'Ere, you dropped your diamond necklace, luv,' Bunny sniffed: ‘Never with tweeds.'

He died in 1997 and his hundreds of candy-coloured bespoke suits were auctioned at Sotheby's. His 29in waist meant they were of no use to me.

The dandy survives in old movies. The dapperness of Fred Astaire and Cary Grant was inspired by the Duke of Windsor. No one looked better in a snap-brim fedora than Alain Delon.

In real life, however, dandies are anachronisms, smart figures from a more gracious age. The best anecdote in this book concerns Guy Burgess. Isolated for eternity in Moscow, his nostalgia for Old England was assuaged by clothes. He continued to order suits from Savile Row. ‘He might be a traitor,' said his tailor, ‘but he's still a gentleman.

1.12.17 06:29

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