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Dandy, dandyism

Related: bohemian - decadent movement (1800s) - fashion - female dandy - flâneur - New Romantics (1980s) - playboy - snob - 1800s (roots)

An aspiring dandy must have "no profession other than elegance. . . no other status but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons. . . . The dandy must aspire to be sublime without interruption; he must live and sleep before a mirror." -- Charles Baudelaire

Since the sublime is the most necessary to the elderly, an old dandy is the most contemptible creature in nature, just as a young crank is the most offensive and intolerable. --Immanuel Kant " (Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, trans Goldthwait, 1960, p. 55)

Famous dandies: Gabriele d'Annunzio - Charles Baudelaire - Beau Brummel - Joris-Karl Huysmans - Walter Pater - Eugène Sue - Algernon Swinburne - James McNeill Whistler - Oscar Wilde

Fictional dandies: Des Esseintes - Baron de Charlus - Patrick Bateman

The 1890s provided many suitably sheltered settings for dandyism. The poets Algernon Swinburne and Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, the American artist James McNeill Whistler, Joris-Karl Huysmans and Max Beerbohm were dandies of the period, as was Robert de Montesquiou, who inspired Marcel Proust's Baron de Charlus. In Italy Gabriele d'Annunzio and Carlo Bugatti exemplified the artistic bohemian dandyism of the fin de siecle. The 20th century had less patience with dandyism: the Prince of Wales, briefly Edward VIII was something of a dandy, and it did not help his public appeal. Nevertheless George Walden, in his essay Who's a Dandy?, points to Noel Coward, Andy Warhol and Quentin Crisp as examples of dandies of the modern era. In the late 1890s to the present in Japan, the dandy has become a fashion subculture. [May 2006]

La Calavera Catrina (before 1913) - Jose Guadalupe Posada, frequently dubbed in English as the female dandy

The term dandy was first attested in the English language c.1780.


A dandy is a man who rejects bourgeois values, devotes particular attention to his physical appearance, refines his language, cultivates his hobbies. A dandy emulates aristocratic values, often without being an aristocrat himself, thus such a dandy is a form of snob. The practice of dandyism was a counter-cultural habit that began in the revolutionary 1790s both in London and Paris.

It is little wonder that the French dandies acquired a reputation for decadence. Their fancy-dress bohemianism became a major influence on the Symbolist movement in French literature during the latter part of the nineteenth century. --[1]


c.1780, of uncertain origin, first appeared in a Scottish border ballad:

I've heard my granny crack
O' sixty twa years back
When there were sic a stock of Dandies O

etc. In that region, Dandy is dim. of Andrew. In vogue in London c.1813-19. His fem. counterpart was a dandizette (1821) with Fr.-type ending. The adjective dandy first recorded 1792; very popular c.1880-1900. --http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=dandy [Jan 2006]

The dandy and the bohemian

Dandies were rich, bohemians were poor:

Dandies had the time and the money to devote to living extravagantly. They were wealthier than Bohemians, having enough to live without employment. Many were owners of large inheritances. They never sought to earn or gain more wealth but lived in constant risk of losing their wealth, gambling and squandering carelessly. According to Hugo, a typical dandy would "hunt, smoke, gape, drink, take snuff, play billiards, stare at passengers getting out of the coach, live at the cafe, dine at the inn, . . . grow stupid as they grow old, do no work, do no good, and not much harm." (Hugo, 163) This decadent lifestyle forced many dandies, including Baudelaire, into a life of poverty and to become, in effect, their bohemian counterparts. --http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist255-s01/boheme/dandyism.html [Jul 2006]

But they both despised bourgeois philistinism:

Like bohemians, Dandies fervently rejected bourgeois values. They had a similar, carefree, indolent lifestyle and like Bohemians, seemed to belong nowhere in society. However, unlike bohemians, Dandies chose to emulate the aristocracy rather than live in poverty. Despite these differences, the Bohemia and Dandyism often merged. --Bohemian Paris: Culture , Politics, and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life, 1830-1930 - Jerrold Seigel (1986), (pp 98-99) --http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist255-s01/boheme/dandyism.html [Dec 2004]


A dandy is another word for a fop, a stock character and member of a fashion movement from the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

A Dandy is a male who dresses in a fashionable attention getting manner. Often called a metrosexual in today's society, he is not afraid to use cosmetics and other apprearance enhancing techniques to show others how he feels about himself. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fop, Feb 2004


Metrosexual, a pun on heterosexual, was first used in 1994 by British journalist Mark Simpson, who coined metrosexual (and its noun, metrosexuality) to refer an urban male with a strong aesthetic sense who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle. He is the fashion-conscious target audience of men's magazines: --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metrosexual, Feb 2004

Susan Sontag in Notes on Camp

45. Detachment is the prerogative of an elite; and as the dandy is the 19th century's surrogate for the aristocrat in matters of culture, so Camp is the modern dandyism. Camp is the answer to the problem: how to be a dandy in the age of mass culture. --Susan Sontag, Notes on Camp

Female dandy

The female equivalents of dandies could be found in the demi-monde, in figures such as the extravagant courtesan Cora Pearl. The marchesa Luisa Casati followed a dandy's career in Venice after World War I. The diva might also be considered a female dandy. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dandy#Female_Dandies [Jul 2006]

Dandies, the A list

The following is a list of famous (and not-so-famous) dandies, in order of fabulousness, compiled by someone who calls himself the Decadence Scholar.

1. Charles Baudelaire - 2. Oscar Wilde - 3. David Bowie - 4. Marlene Dietrich - 5. Prince - 6. Annie Lennox - 7. Julie Edwards as Victor/Victoria - 8. Greta Garbo - 9. Tilda Swinton as Orlando - 10. Romaine Brooks - 11. Robert de Montesquiou - 12. Stephane Mallarme - 13. Lord Byron - 14. Coco Chanel - 15. Fran Lebowitz - 16. Jacques Derrida - 17. Aubrey Beardsley - 18. Georges Sand - 19. Djuna Barnes - 20. Natalie Barney - 21. Quentin Crisp - 22. Madonna - 23. George "Beau" Brummel - 24. Gabriele d'Annunzio - 25. Benjamin Disraeli - 26. Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly - 27. Count D'Orsay - 28. J.-K. Huysmans's Jean des Esseintes - 29. Oscar Wilde's character Dorian Gray
--http://decadentscholar.livejournal.com/ [Jul 2006]

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