We should be proud to think that dandyism is an English thing. It began here in 1799, with the rise of George Bryan “Beau” Brummel, was heroically mimicked by Lord Byron, slavishly imitated across the Channel by the poet Baudelaire and the flâneur Alfred Comte d’Orsay, brought to a pitch of decadence by the peacock excess of Robert Conte de Montesquiou, went transatlantic and film-starry in the 1920s and 1930s (Cary Grant, Noël Coward, Fred Astaire) and went crazy in Sixties London with the tailors Tommy Nutter, Douglas Hayward and Michael Fish, before disappearing under the invasion of jeans and T-shirts that closed the 20th century.
So where do we stand, or pose, today? Where are the modern dandies? The news isn’t great. In the relaunched The Dandy: Peacock or Enigma, Nigel Rodgers reports that, following the the apparent suicides of clothes-obsessed John Morgan and death-obsessed Sebastian Horsley, the breed seems virtually extinct.
Only in sartorial obsessives such as Nick Foulkes (with his collection of perfumed wristwatch straps) and Stephen Calloway of the V&A Museum (frock coat, fin de siècle pointy beard, curly moustache) and flamboyant journalists such as Peter York, AA Gill and Tyler Brûlé does he find the heroic insouciance of their forebears.
Rodgers tries to identify a new dandy spirit in the Edwardian-retro magazine The Chap – but no echt dandy would subscribe to a magazine and follow its dictates – and in the Sapeurs, the Congo-derived clothing style currently knocking ’em dead in north Paris boutiques, but without conviction.
The most encouraging signs of life are a hike in sales of waistcoats, cravats and monocles; a boom in sales of Harris Tweed and an experimentation with ties, bow-ties, cuff-links and hats.
Just when we thought the dandy was dead as Disraeli, there are stirrings of a return to dandy values – elegance, discernment, wit, independence and style. Go for it, guys: express your inner Byron!