“Hey, Silvio, look at Jerry here, prancing around in his coat with his purse. Yup, he’s a dandy. He’s a real fancy boy.”
– Cosmo Kramer
Anyone else underwhelmed by the Sartorialist book when they acually had the damned thing in their hands rather than floating on a screen surrounded by hyperbolic promo blurb? Are Scott and the majority of the book’s male subjects the 21st century incarnation of a dandy? As elegant as these character are, things done changed. Buoyed by the impending Seinfeld ‘non’ reunion and deflated by the diminutive stature of said tome, the concept of dandyism has been on my mind.
The approach to elegance isn’t quite as extreme as it should be. I was first introduced to the notion of a dandy in his more fantastical sense when I was handed an archaic Terry’s chocolate box filled with cigarette cards. For the uninitiated, the act of smoking in the UK was once enlivened by the addition of themed cards in sets of, say, fifty – like cancer-causing Pokemon.
Themes could range from cricketers of the time, to planes to historical matters. The box contained at least a whole tumour’s worth of completed subjects. There’s a certain brilliance in such crude attempts to add extra value to cigarette purchases. If the nicotine didn’t grab you, the collector mentality would.
My childhood favourite was a set from 1932 entitled ‘Dandies’ from the Player’s cigarette brand – I can only imagine that other more pertinant subjects were already covered, hence the slightly more offbeat choice of topic. I was mesmerised by the collection of cards that appeared to depict little more than a bunch of men dressed like idiots. But the images are superb. Mainly because someone (the mysterious C. Clark) was clearly commissioned to paint each subject. Nowadays, were such items allowed, it would be an afternoon on Photoshop or a photographic approach…actually, let’s face it, the glory of an item like this set is its labour-intensive nature.
Paintings plus concise copy on the rear of each card? It’s got to take time. With dandies presented through the centuries in all their finery, there’s clearly points when the magnitude of the task created limitations – there’s some fictional characters thrown in, like ‘Pickwick Papers’ characters, and when desperation struck, some scenarios have been added in lieu of a specific historical figure – possibly fictional.
I’m particularly fond of the ‘A Dandy To The Last’ card, where a foppish character requests that an executioner doesn’t get fingermarks on his cravat before he meets his maker. That’s sartorial commitment.
But what was their purpose? Were they there as the antidote to the grey UK between world wars? Were they intended as figures of mockery by a working class consumer, or were they aspirational characters at the time, in contrast to the difficulties of the era. In the case of the scarf preoccupied chap heading to his doom, it’s about as extreme an example of clean living in difficult circumstances as I’ve ever seen.
Given the state of the nation back then, what, regardless of historical context would seem like a lot of work for something so disposable, just seems totally gratuitious. Which in a lot of ways reflects the attitude of characters depicted, meaning that, thematically, all that presumed toil makes a certain sense.
It’s a shame that because it ends its timeline at the end of the 19th century (with a Pearly King and Queen), the next generation of dandys like aviator and sharp dresser Alberto Santos-Dumont who helped add a spot of refinement to dandyism at the turn of the 20th century never get a look in. But if someone instigated a follow up like Topps sequel ‘Mars Attacks’ cards with ‘Dinosaurs Attack’, who’d be ripe for inclusion? I don’t think Schuman’s mob would be in the running, but these chaps certainly might be.