Fine and dandy

Andy Warhol in a dressing gown, Malcolm McLaren in sheepskin . . . you’ll find them in a new book on men and fashion


Now that the menswear shows have just finished in Paris and we know that mismatched suits and every shade of blue are en route for men this winter, a new book called Men of Fashion is well timed. It’s about the history and pleasures of the sharply dressed man, from Beau Brummel in the early 19th century, to those with contemporary sartorial flair.

The term dandy first appeared as a mild insult in late 17th century Scotland, then became associated with an urban peacock, a flaunting style that could assert manliness and heterosexual swagger. As the founding father of London’s tailoring tradition, Beau Brummel as the original dandy has a special place, but his life, as Ian Kelly pointed out in his biography has relevance because it, “unlocked the turbulent, venal, fashion-and-celebrity obsessed Regency age and turns a mirror on our own at the same time”.

The essays in Men of Fashion trace contradictory definitions and images of the dandy, the history of young men and their clothes in the 19th century and the relationship of black dandyism and hip-hop. Patti Smith compares Beau Brummel to the poet Baudelaire “both dressed in finery and died in rags”, Merlin Holland writes about Oscar Wilde’s last shirt and his love of clothes. But what makes this book compelling is not so much the often rather exhaustive texts, but the fine images: Andy Warhol in a dressing gown, Malcolm McLaren in sheepskin, the beautiful naval and military uniforms, the wonderful array of tweed suits belonging to Americans, and the bizarre but beautiful get up of individuals like the provocative Nigerian artist Ike Ude. He cuts quite a figure decked out in a Norfolk jacket, French cuff shirt, Nigerian Yoruba trousers, canvas spats accessorised with a Zulu fighting stick and a miniature fedora atop an orange macaroni wig.

The chapter on young black men, hip hoppers “fresh-dressed like a million bucks”, shows how they broke the “silk ceiling” of the fashion industry and became international fashion and style icons.
Artist, Rebel, Dandy; Men of Fashion, edited by Kate Irvin and Laurie Ann Brewer, is published by Yale University Press, £35

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