The other day, my friend Anna arrived at a small bar and music venue after a heavy thunderstorm. She wore velvety, high black pumps a half-size too big— “But they have pretty bows,” she explained, in order to justify the inconvenience and labor that walking in them involved. A white flower adorned her short wavy bob, and when she dispensed with a sopping wet navy wool coat, a strapless fringed flapper dress emerged. “Hey, Billie Holiday!” the chanteuse called out to her from the stage. Anna turned to me and announced, “I decided that every time I go out from now on, I’m dressing up like I’m going on a date. A date with myself!” She smiled triumphantly and looked over at our friend Breedlove, a musician who had penned a song with just that title, all about treating oneself to such niceties as flowers, Champagne, and boxes of chocolates.
It’s a matter of impeccable taste, a confident sense of style and a few choice accessories or articles of clothing.
Both Anna and Breedlove embody a certain unalienable truth that the contemporary dandy adheres to: Surround yourself with beauty and elegance, always, even if it’s just for yourself. Or rather, especially if it’s for yourself. As we forge ahead into spring, it may seem slightly counterintuitive to proscribe a dandified approach to dressing—the image that comes to mind is an impossibly fussy fop dressed in a high, stiff collar, ruffled cuff, waistcoat, heavy jewelry, top hat and a cane. To be sure, that look is at the heart of a dandy’s origins as seen on the most famous dandy of the Regency era, Beau Brummell. In all his high-collared glory, Brummell provided the inspiration for Karl Lagerfeld’s Fall 2009 collection for Chanel, where classic black Chanel suits came equipped with elaborate white ruff collars and neck brooches, or a dress was draped to resemble a cutaway coat.
But a dressing like a dandy need not take such a literal approach. Instead, one could try dressing the way a dandy thinks: “I hate movement for it displaces lines/And never do I weep and never do I laugh,” writes Baudelaire in the voice of a female statue, bestowing the work of art with an uncompromising attitude toward her own beauty. Do whatever it takes to stay perfect, she implores. Embodying beauty on a daily basis doesn’t have to involve expensive, luxurious items (though a dandy is certainly not opposed to such things). It’s really more just a matter of impeccable taste, a confident sense of style, and a few choice accessories or articles of clothing.
For instance, if you’re a man, you might opt for a summer suit in robin’s egg blue or pale pink, or at the very least a smart dress shirt in that same color. Monocle sunglasses might be impractical or impossible to come by, but a dual pair of round lenses looks just as smart (and they’re hands-free). Libertine, a collection of reworked vintage and original prints by Cindy Greene and Johnson Hartig, incorporated into their Fall 2009 collection a print of library shelves filled with classic titles—a dandy should be well-read, or at least wear their favorite book as an accessory. Thus, every aspiring latter-day dandy should be toting J.K. Huysmans’ novel À Rebours (Against Nature), which catalogs the protagonist Des Esseintes’ obscure aesthetic tendencies. After reading that, you might be inspired to catalog the same for yourself.
Whether you opt for a snappy bespoke suit or something more fleeting, becoming a dandy at any price point can chase away the recession blues. VIEW OUR GALLERIES of dandies past, and a few contemporary objets d’art that will guide you toward a dandified way of living today.
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Renata Espinosa is the New York editor of Fashion Wire Daily. She is also the co-founder of impressionistic fashion and art blog TheNuNu and a sometimes backup dancer for "The Anna Copa Cabanna Show."