June 7 - Happy Birthday, Beau Brummell

  Posted on June 7, 2022     

This is an update of my post published on June 7, 2011:

Although he was born in 1778, Beau Brummell's influence stretches all the way to today—in the sphere of men's fashion.

Men's fashions in the 1700s included powdered wigs and, often, elaborately decorated and stitched waistcoats and colorful jackets. Lots of satin, lots and lots of lace. Some men were even “painted” and “patched” (think make up and temporary facial tattoos). Shoes with heels and buckles. Jewels (oh, yes, they wore bling). Men who dressed like this often took hours to get dressed.

Well, Beau Brummell was part of a trend to vastly simplify men's fashion—but he still took hours to get properly dressed!

Brummell cared a lot about image but strove to have a look that implied that he didn't care! He took a long time to get ready but tried to look as if he had carelessly hurried into his clothes. He liked clothes that were simple and subtle—clothes that didn't attract stares and attention—but his clothes were simply perfect, well made, of good material, with beautiful cut and perfect fit and tailoring.

He wore no wig, nor hair powder, and his jackets were of non-shiny cloth and solid dark colors. His only decorative element was his white linen cravat—which was usually large and elaborately tied. He felt that he needed no make up, wig, or scent because he took huge pains to be immaculately clean, scrubbed, shaved, and shampooed.

I guess all that scrubbing is what took him so long each day, in getting dressed. Oh, and having his valet tie his large cravat into elaborate-yet-careless-looking displays!

The thing is, Brummell was copied. His style of dress was called dandyism, and it became very popular. (Check out Jane Austen movies to see it for yourself.)

Fashion historians credit Brummell with beginning the ideas behind today's power suit: often dark colored, deceptively simple yet elegant, impeccably fitted and tailored, with the one decorative element the necktie. And of course the modern power suit usually goes along with really careful grooming.

Old-time celebrity...

Another trend Beau Brummell began is that of celebrity. Some authors claim he is the first modern celebrity—that is, he was famous, not for creating a work of art, achieving an unparalleled athletic feat, or inventing a new technology—he was famous for being famous!

He wasn't a born aristocrat, but he wasn't exactly a self-made man, either. Instead, he adopted an aristocratic lifestyle that he couldn't actually afford; he lived on credit; and eventually his debts (especially his gambling debts) ruined him. 

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