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Beau Brummell’s Enduring Influence on Men’s Fashion

There have always been and always will be dandies – men who follow fashion and take an active interest in how they present themselves to the world. However, the Regency produced one of the most influential and famous dandies of all time, George Bryan “Beau” Brummell.

19th century portrait miniature of Beau Brummell.
I'll bet this was painted near the height of his
fame; he looks awfully pleased with himself!
(Wikimedia Commons)


Though he was accepted and imitated at the highest levels of London society, Brummell was no aristocrat; he was the son of a government clerk. But he had exquisite taste in clothing, as well as the sense to make friends with the Prince Regent after obtaining a commission in the Prince’s regiment, the Tenth Light Dragoons.  

Brummell's influence on men’s fashion, both during the Regency and afterwards, was immense. His ideas were novel for the time in which he lived. He insisted on wearing clothes that were well tailored but otherwise simple, in solid, sober colors and without gaudy trimmings. 

He also advocated good personal hygiene. He was fastidious about keeping himself and his clothing immaculate and urged his followers to adopt similar habits, including daily bathing and wearing clean undergarments. 

Cleanliness was not taken for granted during the 18th and early 19th centuries, even among the aristocracy. In The Prince of Pleasure and His Regency, 1811-1820, J.B. Priestley describes the grooming habits of the "downright dirty" Duke of Norfolk – his servants were able to bathe him only occasionally, when the old Duke was too drunk to fight against their efforts.


Portrait of the 11th Duke of Norfolk, Charles Howard,
by James Lonsdale,1816.
(Wikimedia Commons)

During his reign as the undisputed arbitrator of men's clothing style in London society, Brummell accomplished a lot of fashion firsts. He brought long pants or pantaloons into fashion (instead of the knee-length breeches worn previously) and insisted that men’s cravats (the precursor of the necktie men wear today) were starched, spotless and knotted just so. He remodeled men’s dress coats, too, so that they fit more snugly.


Portrait of a Boy, painted circa 1770-1775 by the artist
William Williams. This is a good example of 18th century
men's fashion, pre-Brummell. Note the skirt-like coat,
 breeches,  lace cuffs and loose waistcoat.
(Wikimedia Commons)


Brummell was also the first to wear black evening clothes; a radical change from the elaborate and colorful costumes men wore in the 18th century. In fact, Brummell urged men to forego all types of frills, perfumes and excessive ornamentation, including lace trims, gold embroidery and jewels. The result was an understated elegance in men’s fashion.

According to Priestley, someone once breathlessly told Brummell about a man who was so well-dressed at an event that everyone who was present turned to stare at him. “Then he was not well dressed,” said Brummell, no doubt with a sniff of disdain.

1805 caricature of Brummell by Richard Dighton
(Wikimedia Commons)


Brummell’s personal popularity rose and then fell during the Regency, especially after a well-publicized tiff he had with the Prince Regent in 1813. (I won’t go into the details here, but suffice to say it’s never a good idea to refer to the reigning monarch as somebody’s “fat friend,” even if you were snubbed by said monarch).

The Beau was also a heavy gambler, and he ended up having to flee Britain for good in 1816 to escape being imprisoned for his gambling debts. His story does not have a happy ending; he died in poverty and insane from the effects of syphilis in France near Caen in 1840.

But whatever his personal tragedies, Brummell’s influence on men’s fashion has been enduring. The black suit, which he pioneered, is still a staple in men’s closets, 200 years after he made it fashionable. And, due in part to Brummell’s legacy, a well-dressed man is also a clean one, too!


A modern man in a black suit - an ensemble that
echos Brummell's pioneering style. The Beau likely
wouldn't have approved of the red socks, though.
(Photo by Florence okosun, Wikimedia Commons,
used under the Creative Commons Attribution/
Share-Alike License)

Next week: See how far some Regency dandies would go to achieve a fashionable silhouette

Comments

  1. Oh my! I can hardly wait for the next installment! This one was already quite interesting. Glad he convinced others to wear underwear! :-D Can't wait to see what's up next. :-) BTW, the shop you mentioned had the yarn I needed--thank you so much! xo Jennifer

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm glad the shop was helpful! And thanks for the comment! - I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Maureen,

    I, for one, am glad that men adopted a less feminine way of dressing. I think the black suit is as classy as "the little black dress". It just makes people look so goooooood!

    The man in the last photo looks great in his suit. Even though I adore red, I'd lose the socks. Plus, what's up with those shoes? Does anybody have toes that are that long?

    - Momma Cat

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