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Feb 12

The Revolting Dandy

Yesterday, when Mubarak finally resigned, I was at my tailor.

Dandyism and revolution have long made strange bedfellows. Eons before the British mocked the American revolutionaries with their song of Yankee Doodle Dandy some of our better dressed people have done much to overthrow the powers that be in politics and culture.

If a camera phone is now a molotov cocktail then dressing well can surely be considered a barricade. One to be erected and breeched. It often has been considered just that. By dandies of both the proletariat and elite.

In some respects, dandyism can best be understood as revolt against the daily mundane.  Against the dominant value system of the day.

In his 1863 essay The Dandy Baudelaire wrote:

Fastidious, unbelievables, beaux, lions or dandies: whichever label these men claim for themselves, one and all stem from the same origin, all share the same characteristic of opposition and revolt; all are representatives of what is best in human pride, of that need, which is too rare in the modern generation, to combat and destroy triviality. That is the source, in your dandy, of that haughty, patrician attitude, aggressive even in its coldness. Dandyism appears especially in those periods of transition when democracy has not yet become all-powerful, and when aristocracy is only partially weakened and discredited. In the confusion of such times, a certain number of men, disenchanted and leisured ‘outsiders’, but all of them richly endowed with native energy, may conceive the idea of establishing a new kind of aristocracy, all the more difficult to break down because established on the most precious, the most indestructible faculties, on the divine gifts that neither work nor money can give.

It often parodies the uniforms of the dominant power and undercuts them.

Monica Miller, who wrote Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of the Black Disaporic Identity says:

Although dandyism is often considered a mode of extremely frivolous behavior attentive only to surfaces or facades and a practice of the white, European elite and effete, I argue that it is a creative and subtle mode of critique, regardless of who is deploying it. Though often considered fools, hopelessly caught up in the world of fashion, dandies actually appear in periods of social, political and cultural transition, telling us much about cultural politics through their attitude and appearance. Particularly during times when social mores shift, style and charisma allow these primarily male figures to distinguish themselves when previously established privileges of birth and wealth, or ways of measuring social standing might be absent or uncertain. Style—both sartorial and behavioral— affords dandies the ability and power to set new fashions, to create or imagine worlds more suited to their often avant-garde tastes. Dandyism is thus not just a practice of dress, but also a visible form of investigating and questioning cultural realities.

Yesterday, while I was at my tailor a dictator fell. I wore a pink suit and was being filmed by Jamie Woo for a series on Toronto’s most stylish men. Not sayin’ I had anything to do with Mubarak’s resignation but, c’mon, just look at this thing.

It took a pink suit for me to notice that almost everyone in snowbound Toronto dresses in brown, grey, navy blue or black. You might see the odd flash of a red scarf. The only things on the street as colorful as me are the advertisements and store signs. Humans seem to cower before these neon displays with monkish humility.

This does not mean I should be confused with an advertisement. I am not that.

Not usually, at least.

But I find it fascinating that a bright suit feels like a revolution against the dominant consumerism. A declaration of human independence from and equality with the glowing strip-club sign. And I find it interesting that so many people are offended by such a display and that so many more are afraid of offending them.

Indeed, people who like my clothing often congratulate me on my bravery.

It’s fucking absurd.

As is equating dandyism with revolution.

But could anyone ever seriously claim that our world has been stripped clean of absurdity? That absurdity is not an exception but the rule? To make such a claim would be simply  . . .

The only claim that I am trying to make here is that dandyism is more often than not a force that springs from the same souce as revolution. While it is often associated with social climbers or members of the elite, these are the rarities. Much more common than the Beau Brummels are the Baudelaires, the Wildes and the Félix Fénéons.

Most recently added to this tradition, is The Worker Dandyist International and their manifesto.

Though I loathe labels and manifestos and dandyism is notoriously resistant to them, I believe this one is worth a look.

If only to counterbalance the common assumption that dandyism is the playground of the elites. That the tradition of teddy boys, punks, artists, authors, sapes and the dispossessed is somehow less worthy than the tradition of swanky nobles, fascist stormtroopers like James Bond and celebrities. That money is more important than creativity.

It’s not.

It never will be.

And neither will ever be as important as buttons that actually work.

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  1. Rose

    “to combat and destroy triviality” More of this, please!
    I have walked down the street with quite a few dandies and have observed the looks of astonishment, reverence, and disgust from passers by. This has led me to believe that their style is, or can be, much more than a frivolous endeavor. I could see that if what these men wear makes people treat them so differently, or expect different things from them, or makes others challenge their mediocrity, etc., indeed it can be revolutionary. I think you have made a very good case for this.

  2. WDI

    Very pleased to meet you, Sir!

    1. Ryan Oakley

      Likewise.

  3. Danielle

    “But could anyone ever seriously claim that our world has been stripped clean of absurdity? That absurdity is not an exception but the rule? To make such a claim would be simply . . .”

    The best!

  1. Tweets that mention The Revolting Dandy | The Grumpy Owl -- Topsy.com

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