31 August 2009

Men: Beau Brummel

By Lisa Marie Wilkinson

Centuries before the first issue of GQ magazine hit the stands, and before Mr. Blackwell published his inaugural "Worst-Dressed List," another young man of taste staked his claim on history as the arbiter of male fashion during the Regency era in England.

George Bryan Brummel, (1778-1840), known as "Beau" Brummel, is believed to be responsible for creating the slave to fashion known as the "dandy," for introducing the modern man's suit, complete with tie, and for breeches giving way to full length trousers.

Although not of noble birth, Brummel was attracted to the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and as a young man, dressed accordingly. Following his studies at Oriel College he embarked upon a military career, which brought him to the attention of Prince George, the Prince of Wales. Brummel's more sober style of dress, featuring darker colors and cleaner lines, gradually overtook the current men's fashion of high heels and peacock-bright colors, largely as a result of Brummel's friendship with--and influence over--Prince George, who grew to view Brummel as the absolute authority on all things having to do with fashion and personal care. Many aspects of Brummel's personal hygiene habits caught on as popular fashion, and to this day we can credit him with introducing the concept of daily bathing and tooth-brushing.

The following pictures illustrate the evolution of style from fop to dandy:

Brummel resigned his military commission at the advent of the Napoleonic Wars in 1798 and soon came into a sizable inheritance upon the death of his father. He installed himself in the fashionable district of Mayfair (London) and began spending money and gambling extravagantly while in the company of friends whose wealth and means far exceeded his own. Eventually, lenders refused to extend Brummel the credit needed to support his lifestyle, and he fell out of favor with his wealthy, influential friends, including the Prince Regent.

Brummel was forced to flee to France in 1816 to avoid debtor's prison, but struggled with debt in France as well, eventually spending some time in a French prison as punishment for his indebtedness. He died an insane pauper in Caen, France in 1840.