A couple of weeks back I was approached by the founder of this site asking whether I was interested in contributing a piece to the blog. Sure I was, yet time constraints made me procrastinate for as long as I could. Now I am thinking about what to write and the first thing that comes to mind is the very basis of how we learned about each other in the first place; i.e., the book ‘The New Man’ which I was fortunate enough to contribute to as well. As the title suggests, the book addresses contemporary currents in menswear and tries to respond to questions about the ways in which the male image has changed over the past ten or twenty years and which aspects the development (might) have been influenced by.

Truth be told, I had never bothered to read the book in its entirety. Apart from skimming certain chapters I was most interested to see how my own text fared compared to the rest. At long last – at the occasion of writing this piece, that is – I took a closer look and I was rather startled to learn that one of the book’s central claims suggests that men, on a grand scale, have become dandies. Western man has become a dandy. A dandy, really?! In the two-page introduction the words dandy and dandyism pop up no less than 12 times. Amazing. Mostly so, because dandyism has always been a niche phenomenon, with only a few selected individuals being courageous and/or tragic enough characters to live the existence of the solitary individual whose life (r)evolves first and foremost around himself. When it comes to the question which of the two is more important – creating or being – the reply by necessity must be the latter. In fact, in his case being is creating.

It would be a misnomer, therefore, to argue that dandyism was an art form or a chosen existence. It isn’t. It can’t be. It is the natural consequence of a feeling of not-belonging, a disconnect between him and the world.

To be sure, this position has its benefits: promiscuity, dashing – but always understated – looks, an elegant amount of debts to name but a few. Nonetheless there is no denying that dandyism, or the dandy for that matter, by definition assumes the position of an outlier. He doesn’t belong anywhere outside the world he has created (and relentlessly creates) for and around himself. Creating is also building in this case; building walls; perhaps, the walls of an ivory tower that no one has access to. Access is denied because intrusion would mean to destroy his world. It is an unreal place in the sense that reality is allowed in only to a certain extent – and only on the premise that it doesn’t conflict with the tenure of the world’s principal ruler. He is the spearhead, the epitome of self-culturalisation, a public exclamation mark that populates an individuated habitat in its renunciation of collectivity.

Now I am wondering: how is it possible that men, on a grander scale, have become dandies? Who would aspire to such an existence, after all? At this nexus we encounter one of the most common misunderstandings when it comes to the dandy’s defining features. Frequently it is assumed that dandyism was about flamboyance. By all means, if there is one feature that does injustice to his existence (an anti-feature, as it were) it is the idea that the dandy was a poseur or, worse even, a fop. Never would he intentionally strike a pose – least so in terms of his looks. Whoever said that someone like Sebastian Horsley was a dandy has obviously misunderstood the concept. Horsley, who was notorious for wearing pink velvet suits in combination with top hats and plateau soles, was a public disgrace but surely not a dandy. In fact, the cheekiness – if not vulgarity – of his looks is what most people first think of when they hear the word dandy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dandyism is a form of existence that plays with clichés and humour in order to reclaim a long-forfeited position in the collective whole which, by the same token, he denies and debunks time and again. Accordingly, dandyism is far less connected to clothing than it is to style. A style, to be sure, of which attire is part as well – but certainly it is the least interesting one. Rather, his posture – both literally as well as intellectually – is intriguing as is his toing and froing when he tries to reconstitute sociability and reconcile normative standards with his own ones.
Have we now all become dandies? If we go by the (errant) idea that male looks have gained more currency in recent years, perhaps. If we envisage the dandy in conceptual terms –as a kind of existentialist Gesamtkunstwerk, that is – we haven’t. Obviously. Not.