George ‘‘Beau’’ Brummell: The Originator of Dandyism

Often misinterpreted as a ‘fop’, Beau Brummell was in fact an innovative dresser and arbiter of good taste who laid the foundations for tailoring as we know it today.
A 19th century engraving of George "Beau" Brummell (1778-1840) at his tailor's shop. Photo by Granger/REX/Shutterstock.

“How about a pair of pink sidewinders and a bright orange pair of pants? You could really be a Beau Brummell baby, if you just give it half a chance.”


… So sang Billy Joel in his 1980 protest song ‘It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me’. Whilst Mr Joel makes some insightful and honest lyrical observations relating to fashion and the current music scene, he also makes the classic mistake of confusing the dandy with the fop. Had George "Beau" Brummell been alive in the late 20th century, I doubt he would have worn bright orange trousers or sidewinders in pink - whatever they may be.

Born in 1778, Brummell is celebrated as the originator of dandyism. A very British reaction to the excessive continental fashions that dominated early Georgian London. It was here that young affluent males adopted flamboyant ‘Macaroni’ fashions picked up from visiting Italy and France as part of The Grand Tour - a coming-of-age trip undertaken by British nobility and the landed gentry from the 17th century onwards. They’d wear high, powdered wigs, make-up, perfume, elaborate and rare fabrics and silk stockings. They were the fops.

Brummell advocated and championed good tailoring, sombre fabrics, a limited colour palette, personal hygiene, starch and polish. He was to Regency London what we would now call an ‘influencer’, albeit with more class. Through his time in the Tenth Royal Hussars he became good friends with the Prince Regent, the future George III, who was an admirer of Brummell’s aesthetic, quick wit and charm. With this royal patronage, Brummell became a leader of fashion and the antithesis of the fop. There is a great scene in the television dramaBeau Brummell: This Charming Manwhere Brummell, played by James Purefoy, is confronted by a couple of fops in the street. ‘Fop’ and ‘dandy’ are hurled as insults before a scuffle breaks out and the fops are beaten up by Brummell with the assistance of his valet. There is a slight tongue-in-cheekQuadropheniafeel to the episode, with the fops and the dandies taking the place of the mods and rockers. Phil Davis, who played Brummell’s valet, also starred inQuadrophenia. Coincidence? I think not.


August 2017


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