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It seems like all it takes for a man to be called a dandy these days is an extensive collection of pocket squares and an appreciation for vintage tailoring. But, Danielle Meder argues, the title is more about attitude than attire

ILLUSTRATION BY DANIELLE MEDER

Winston Chesterfield and Barima Owusu-Nyantekyi are two stylish Londoners whose portraits are featured in I Am Dandy: The Return Of The Elegant Gentleman. A book by Nathaniel Adams and Rose Callahan published in 2013, it celebrates men who value the finer things in life – and fashion.

But when I recently hosted the duo for Gibson cocktails at Bar Américain in the U.K. capital’s Soho district, they both told me that they do not, in fact, identify as dandies. Dandies have the “disadvantage of retrospect,” Chesterfield says. To the modern eye, historical dandies appear quite conventional, as we’re unable to appreciate how outrageous their attire was in context. So the word “dandy” gets applied to men who wear retro styles when it should be applied to those who are introducing shocking new ideas.

Well-dressed men who favour vintage accessories cut a fine figure, but to truly earn the dashing title, they have to do so much more. A real dandy is a rebel in his own time whose influence manifests a lasting effect on fashion. The first, Beau Brummell, led the 19th-century male renunciation of frock coats and hose, upholding the paradox of conspicuous understatement that defines men’s dress to this day. When he was the Prince of Wales, King Edward VII made it acceptable for men to wear informal short coats. The Duke of Windsor established glen plaid and double-breasted coats as part of a well-dressed wardrobe. These individuals changed the way clothes were worn forever after.

A twenty-first-century dandy might advocate an absurd concept like formal exercise gear or adapting women’s clothing to convey a new type of masculine expression. So call a man a dandy if you like, but it will be impossible to know how truly revolutionary he is until decades from now.

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