I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Rhode Island School of Design’s exhibit Artist, Rebel, Dandy: Men of Fashion (http://risdmuseum.org/notes/artist_rebel_dandy_men_of_fashion). This exhibit celebrates men (and some women) who love clothes, love to dress well and have forged their own path to create new, avant garde styles; from the notorious Bea Brummell of Georgian England to late Twentieth Century men and women, this exhibit has it all.
Being a lover of the Regency era, I especially enjoyed seeing the Prince Regent’s banyan from his younger days and Beau Brummell’s great coat made by Weston, tailor to the aristocrats. There were also cutaway coats and silk knee breeches belonging to prominent Rhode Islanders of the period. I’ve seen photographs, movies, reenactor costumes and women’s clothes but for some reason, the museums I’ve been to lacked men’s clothes. It was amazing to put an actual 3D image in my mind of the clothes I’ve only read about.
I’m vastly impressed with how much Georgette Heyer got right in her novels. She was the best at setting the scene and creating memorable characters. Many of her admirers have used her settings and introduced real people into the plot. A scroll featuring the noted dandies of the day helped put faces to the names I’ve read about. I only wish Mr. Darcy and Henry Tilney had been featured.
Also from the Regency era, the exhibit features many Cruikshank cartoons. For those who may not know, Robert and George Cruikshank were printmakers in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century London. Their colorful, witty cartoons lampooned the excesses of society. These cartoons were similar to today’s political cartoons and celebrity gossip blogs. I’ve seen a few cartoons online and some at the Morgan Library’s Jane Austen exhibit. The RISD exhibit had many on loan from the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University.
Young Gentlemen: Dress of the Year 1798
Lacing in Style
A Dandy Fainting
The Commercial Dandy and his Sleeping Partners
A New Irish Jaunting Car (lampooning the dandy fad for riding early bicycles)
And my personal favorites
A Hen Pecked Dandy
Many of the cartoons displayed a fear of reversal of sex roles with effeminate young men wearing corsets and fainting just as women were expected to do.
See more and read about dandies at BookTryst
At first dandies were a figure of fun until Oscar Wilde and his set made dandyism a a way of life and a culture of it’s own.
For Downton Abbey fans, there were several early 1900s shirts laid out with collars just as Lord Grantham’s valet would have done. There was also a Brooks Brothers coat c. 1917 that I can see Matthew Crawley buying on a trip to New York to visit Mary’s family.
These great men have influenced styles of dress into present day. The exhibit featured movie costumes as well: Fred Astaire’s suit from the movie Top Hat
Diane Keaton’s suit from Annie Hall
There was so much to see in this exhibit that I didn’t have time to look at everything in detail.
You can read about it in the Boston Globe (http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/style/2013/05/15/men-fashion-finally-gets-some-respect-risd-dandy-show/iUDQ2znJWXeNJn5pDLX5rI/story.html)
Read more about Dandyism at Dandyism.net