Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Dandy, by Ian Kelly

Inside the dressing room of the ultimate Regency metrosexual

Review,Philip Hoare
Tuesday 25 October 2005 00:00 BST

Although Brummell's origins were almost lowly - his father was a civil servant - he was born in Downing Street, where Brummell Senior served the Prime Minister, Lord North. After Eton (where his sense of style was born, via the uniform of the ritualistic "Montem polemen") and Oxford, the young Brummell joined the Prince of Wales's 10th Light Dragoons, a regiment almost entirely designed to sport the dashing pelisses and silver frogging of a hussar. In 1794, Brummell got to know the Prince himself, a man twice his age, who had an equal obsession with clothes (Kelly hints at a homoerotic attachment, too). With royal patronage - and his family inheritance - Brummell entered his swaggering stride as the ultimate Regency metrosexual. It would be worth reading this book for Kelly's chapters on Brummell's dressing routine alone. Brummell, who by all accounts had the physique of a Greek god, was swathed in linen that had to be country-laundered to avoid soot spots. His legs were clad in breeches so tight that, as one lady noted, they allowed one to know what a gentleman was thinking. It was a theatrical performance watched by Brummell's acolytes, as his man emerged from the dressing room with armfuls of neckclothes: "Oh, these sir? These are our failures."

Kelly elegantly charts the tale of this fashion icon - whose fame in fact rested on a subfusc palette of brown, navy and cream - from Brummell's affairs with Hester Stanhope and Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, to his disastrous failing-out with the Prince, his gambling addiction, and finally to exile in France, the dandiacal body spotted with syphilitic sores. It is a dramatic rise and fall - and the author, himself an actor, is about to take up the role in an off-Broadway production.

But Beau was in no doubt as to his legacy: "I, Brummell, put the modern man into pants, dark coat, white shirt and clean linen. I dare say that will be sufficent to secure my fame."

The writer's 'England's Lost Eden' is published by Fourth Estate

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