It began with a cravat.
I wanted to know how to tie my scarf so I didn’t look like a reject from an 80s music video … or a boy scout. So I googled “how to tie a cravat” … and found there are indeed many ways to tie a bit of material around your neck – for warmth and colour rather than with self-harming intentions.
And then I came across the magnificent book, I Am Dandy: The return of the elegant gentleman by Rose Callahan. Based on Callahan’s blog / photographic project, The Dandy Portraits, the book contains some of the finest dressed gentlemen I ever did see. In its pages I not only found cravats, but also fabrics and textures and shoes that maketh many a beautiful man.
As someone who doesn’t wear frocks, I’d been wondering how to rework the items of clothing I like to wear (pants, shirt, jacket, boots) in a way that was more, um, me. But current trends left me cold. The classic modernist styles of the 20s, 30s, 50s and 60s evoked the look and spirit of the style I sought, but how to wear them in a modern way?
Over on the queer fashion front, the last few years have seen the rise of dapper style in lesbian, gender queer and trans communities. While I find it fabulous that so many beautiful women and trans folk are working the masculine styles, most of it just wasn’t working for me. While it looked slick, I found little originality or surprise or celebration or flourish … It just seemed to be butch dressed up in fine duds. I saw little that inspired me and almost nothing I would wear.
And then I discovered dandy … now, dandy, I love. While the term originated in the late 18th century to refer to men rather consumed with their appearance, I’m quite smitten with the recent appropriation of the style by women.
It’s not like we haven’t had women taking on the dandy style before – think Coco Chanel, Marlene Dietrich, Diane Keaton – but in the last few years, the dandizette has taken to the streets, and the blogs and the tumblers and the pinterest. (In fact, I only realised how popular it was when I started compiling a pinterest board of dandy style – just for my own reference – and my images began getting pinned and liked by people I didn’t know.)
While the female dandy apparently had its fashion day on the catwalks in 2010, it has been the women of film and music who have taken it into the mainstream in the last few years – especially Janelle Monae, Tilda Swinton and a stunning editorial with Carey Mulligan.
In my quest for all things dandy, there has been one woman who has stood out as the queen of dandy women. Fashion editor, Esther Quek, takes the finest and most ostentatious elements of men’s and women’s style and owns its.
This is a real achievement because, let me be frank, men’s clothes often do not work on women. We have hips and thighs and breasts (usually) and men’s clothing does not accommodate such things but with the right cut and combination of elements it can work – as Quek so admirably demonstrates.
For me, dandy isn’t about copying men’s style but taking the beautiful bits, adding a bit of flamboyance and making it work on a female body.
The brogues, the oxfords, the loafers, the scarves, the cravats, the kerchiefs, the monogrammed handkerchiefs!, the collared shirts, the tailored shirts, the checks, the florals, the paisleys, the stripes, the dinner jackets, the tuxedo jackets, the dress pants, the stove pipes, the argyle socks, the silk socks, the braces, the belts, the brooches, the glasses, oh and I haven’t even made it to the hats …
Dandy isn’t just about clothes. It is a celebration of all that is fine in life.
Bring it on.
You’ll find more dandy women on my Pinterest Dandy board