The New English Dandy
Wade Crescent faces the camera, in all his rakishly disheveled glory, in a deep plum (it’s purple, really) three-piece suit with a six-button vest over a brown shirt with white polka dots. His unshaven face and too-long hair are a counterpoint to his otherwise peacock-like appearance making it read as the costume of a sensualist, the suit as self-expression rather than suit as the fussy and uptight boxing-in of the man.
Alice Cicolini’s field guide to the well-dressed man in the UK, The New English Dandy, takes as its starting point the word that we associate with Beau Brummell-ism or early Oscar Wilde in his velvets, but her scope is far wider than whatever modern inheritors of that tradition might suggest. In fact, the range of the modern dandy stretches from patrons of the tailors of Saville Row (the epitome of high-style Englishmen’s tailoring) to deep-street in a deconstructed, neu-punk vein.
Here are all manner and class of gentlemen, from the tattoo artist and the guy in the band, to the interior designer, the writer, the actor in silk ties of all sizes or none at all, Nehru collars, cardigans, clashing prints, chinoiserie and track jackets. But the dominant look is that of the suit, whether worn with the jacket over a tunic by Michael Barnes-Wynters (founder of Doodlebug) or with the shirt unbuttoned to a criminal degree by the roguish Andreas Kronthaler, design director at Vivienne Westwood.
Cicolini identifies six sub-species of dandy including The Gentleman, the Neo-Modernist, East-End Flaneur, Terrace Casual, and the New Briton (plus one category which isn’t really a category: the Celebrity Tailor). The Neo-Modernist will feel Belgian to you. The East End Flaneur you will know because he’ll be wearing bright colors and trainers. The Gentleman will look something like the man in the suit you are accustomed to seeing, but the suit will fit cuttingly, made of an extraordinary if understated fabric, and there will be perhaps a flash of color somewhere.
The important point here is the notion of the visual expression of a modern masculinity that has room for personality with a capital-P, that sees dress for men as expression after all, rather than a function of covering the nude body in an acceptable if unremarkable way. This notion of masculine is key because the visual argument of the photos in this book is that a man gives away none of what makes him a man when he embraces dress as a form of self-expression. The term dandy here is elastic, made to stretch long and wide around a population that doesn’t fit into the swanning, self-absorbed, effeminate categorization the word might once have implied.