The British Regency period (1811-1820: when The Prince of Wales became Prince Regent), has been described as the most explosive and creative.
Akin to the 1960’s; enormous changes in culture and society all fused together in one enormous burst of energy.
The battle of Waterloo was won. London was completely re-designed. Turner and Constable were painting, the waltz was introduced (highly risky dance for that era), and Jane Austen and Lord Byron were inspired by the life surrounding them to write.
The glamour, the tastes, scandal and gossip, opulent aristocrats, blossoming middle classes, monarchs, decadence, the celebrity culture, the drugs and drink (minus the rock and roll); it was a celebration of youth culture and of course the fashions. The Regency era was an age of exuberance and creativity, but also of excess and deprivation.
The Dandy – Dress Etiquette and Suit Style
Amid all of this was there was rise of the ‘Dandy’, a fashion etiquette and new wave of style.
How is this important? Well, the ‘Dandy’ shunned traditional elaborate aristocratic styles of the time; wigs, breeches and powder were replaced by simplistic elegance. In short, this was when the plain black suit and ‘tie’ became the epitome of the male wardrobe; embracing masculinity and not femininity.
The person responsible for introducing and establishing this modern men’s suit, and fashion necessity was the infamous George Bryan “Beau” Brummell (7 June 1778 – 30 March 1840).
Beau Brummell became an iconic figure in Regency Britain. The arbiter of men’s fashion, and also a friend of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV; this friendship enabled Beau to entrench what might have been dismissed as an insignificant, and fleeting fashion faux pas into mainstream culture. Beau’s ideas were propelled; taking root in society, they had substantial influence.
Brummell was responsible for making a generation rethink their style choices, and ingrained a fresh sense of what fashion was. Men had never before embraced the understated. Perfectly tailored dark coats, polished boots (with Champagne of course), and full-length trousers rather than knee breeches and stockings, and above all immaculate shirt linen with an elaborately knotted cravat; a must of the ‘Dandy’.
The Beau Brummell ‘Dandy’
Beau’s personal habits were as fastidious as his fashion choices. Attention to detail was a prerequisite for any ‘Dandy’, and it was claimed he took five hours a day to dress. Cleaning his teeth, shaving, and daily bathing were part and parcel of achieving the style, just as much as the clothes.
Brummell’s dictum eventually exerted an influence upon the ‘ton’. The ‘ton’ a term used in reference to Britain’s higher echelons of polite society during the Regency era. The word is derived from the French word meaning ‘taste’ or ‘everything that is fashionable’. The full phrase is ‘le bon ton’, meaning good manners or ‘in the fashionable mode’; the characteristics which epitomised the ideals held onto by the British ‘ton’.
Once the ‘ton’ had adopted the style it then became the must for every self respecting fashion conscious man. Brummell’s niche fashion etiquette then became global; making an impression on all fashion from that day to this.
Bronze Statue of Beau Brummell in Jermyn Street, London
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