dandy trivia roundup

Time for an extravagantly-dressed popinjay of a trivia roundup…

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1. Here’s a weird story from 1901: Anne Moberley and Eleanor Jourdain, a pair of well-educated women and college administrators, visited the gardens near Versailles. They wandered around the nearly vacant grounds, lost. Then they saw some gardeners wearing tricorn hats and green jackets; then they spoke to a man in outmoded clothing with smallpox scars on his face. Moberley spotted a woman in an old-fashioned dress, sitting on the ground and drawing a sketch. Both felt a vague sense of unease.

Months later, they realized they’d visited the gardens on the anniversary of Marie Antoinette’s imprisonment. Moberley saw a painting of Antoinette and decided it was the woman she’d seen sketching; later they found a painting of the Comte de Vaudreuil, who died in 1817 and bore a striking resemblance to the smallpox-scarred man. Digging deeper, they discovered that they’d crossed a bridge that, supposedly, had not been on the grounds since 1789, and the gardeners were wearing the green-coated uniform of Marie Antoinette’s Swiss guard.

Moberley & Jourdain
Moberley & Jourdain

The pair came to the only logical conclusion: they had stepped through some kind of time vortex and had actually walked the grounds in 1789. The sketching woman was actually Marie Antoinette, those were actually the Swiss guard, and that guy was actually recovering from smallpox. In 1911, they anonymously published an account of their experience, called An Adventure (summary here).

So did they fall into a time slip or experience some kind of hallucinatory folie a deux or what? I mean, either would be cool but there’s an explanation that is perhaps more amusing than anything paranormal. The “decadent” French poet Robert de Montesquiou was known to throw lavish costume parties, including actors in period dress performing tableaux vivants. As wikipedia puts it: “Moberly and Jourdain may have inadvertently gatecrashed a gay fancy dress party.” It could have happened to anyone.

The pockmarked man may have been Montesquiou himself, and I suspect a libertine aristocrat like him might have liked nothing more than not breaking character and thus creeping the shit out of some commoners that accidentally stumbled across his adult play date. The sense of unease the women felt was because they were walking into a world they weren’t ever meant to know; not one of paranormal happenings, just of people being rich and weird, like a Napoleonic Bohemian Grove.

Montesquiou side note: “He had no affairs with women, although in 1876 he reportedly once slept with the great actress Sarah Bernhardt, after which he vomited for twenty-four hours. (She remained a great friend.)”

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2. Montesquiou’s bio describes him as a dandy, and though they all connote similar things, there are meaningful distinctions between fop, dandy, and macaroni (less specific are the related terms coxcomb, fribble, popinjay, fashion-monger, and ninny). In fact, the wiki on dandies includes maybe the greatest list ever:

a list of verified dandies
a list of verified dandies

Let’s start with macaroni, a term that dates to the mid-1700s. At the time, the rite of passage for English aristocratic youth transitioning to adulthood was the “Grand Tour.” They were set loose to gallivant around the continent. Ostensibly the goal was to see renaissance art and architecture and become men of class and sophistication; in actual fact it was an excuse to sow their wild oats. When it comes to maturity rituals, I prefer the approach of the Sateré-Mawé, who attain manhood by putting their hand in a sleeve filled with bullet ants.

The tourers returned with a taste of macaroni, then unknown in England. Macaroni eaters were known informally as the “Macaroni Club,” and eventually “macaroni” came to refer to the anything fashionable and hip; something that “exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion.” In particular: extravagant clothing, and tall powdered wigs with tiny hats perched atop them:

Macaroni on the left

In other words, macaroni meant hipster (when the fashion migrated to Canada, the fashion elite were called Kraft dinners). It was a pejorative even then; macaronis were just a walking pile of affectations. A 1770 magazine suggested that “it talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry,” and Baudrillard once called macaroni high fashion “an aesthetic form of nihilism.” When Yankee Doodle was described as sticking a feather in his hat and calling it macaroni, the British songwriter was calling Americans posers and buffoons—credulous enough to think a mere feather in the cap could pass for macaroni fashion. If the defining characteristic of hipsters is that they hate hipsters, then we know that tendency dates back at least three centuries.

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3. Macaroni is apparently an “epicene” fashion, a word I’ve never heard before but refers to a lack of gender distinction, or more specifically a loss of masculinity. This is relevant because dandyism was like the counter-reformation: dandies hoped to reclaim masculinity from the effete and androgynous macaroni. If dandyism wasn’t about gender politics, it might have been about class: another theory holds that dandyism was a garment-based protest against increasingly egalitarian society; a way to take on the outward appearance of aristocracy.

The ur-dandy was Beau Brummell (1778-1840). Brummell was the middle-class son of a politician who befriended the prince and shot up the military ranks and moved in high society circles based entirely on the force of his personality. Brummell was the progenitor of the modern suit and tie. Another of his suggestions, that shoes should be shined with champagne, never caught on. And while he overextended himself and spent 10 years exiled from France due to debts, his name lives on as a symbol of elegance and distinction, as in the 1931 Oldsmobile paint color “Beau Brummell Brown” and a Gillette ad that called him “king of all dandys.”

The female dandy is known as the quaintrelle, the dandyess, or the dandizette. They are, of course, less common, but Charles Dickens notes helpfully that “their absurdities were fully equal to those of the dandy.”

Side note: while “fop” is sometimes used to describe a man overly concerned with appearance and clothing, it usually applied to people wearing less ostentatious apparel than the dandy. I think this implies that all dandies are necessarily fops, but not all fops are dandies, but I’m not clear on fop logic.

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E. Berry Wall
E. Berry Wall

4. John Vanbrugh’s 1696 play The Relapse includes a character named Count Foppington. If there was a real Count Foppington, it would have to be Evander Berry Wall. In fact, Wall was nobler even than a count: he was known as the “King of the Dudes.”

Born to wealth in 1860, Wall was a pre-jet jet-setter who inherited $2 million at age 22 and set himself to a life of hedonism. Hedonism can take many forms, but for Wall, it was clothing. Only the finest in finery and most dashing of the haberdashed suited him. Not just Wall but his dog wore custom-made cravats. He was, at separate times, said to wear both a “profusion of tweeds” and “an amazement of tweeds.” A June 1902 NYT featured a rundown of the city’s most vainglorious vestments, fustian frocks, and grandiloquent garb, and the fops who wore it, including “Dr H. Hoyle Butts, light gray invisible check sack suit, dark four-in-hand, flat-brimmed straw, canary-colored gloves.” But Butts couldn’t meet the standard set by Wall, whose attire was “the most remarkable thing seen at the clubhouse…the crowning glory of the get-up was a dust coat of reddish Havana brown, an extraordinary shade for suiting.”

To be named King of the Dudes, Wall had to best a challenger, the actor Robert Hilliar, nicknamed Handsome Bob. Wall vanquished his opponent by striding into a local bar during the Great Blizzard of 1888, wearing hip-high patent leather boots. Later in 1888, he survived an attempted coup by financier John ‘Bet-a-Million’ Gates, one of the lesser tycoons. Gates made his money in barbed wire, was known for being an unholy asshole to employees at the Waldorf, and for betting copiously on everything, including multi-thousand dollar wagers on which of two raindrops would reach the window sill first. Gates made a bet with Wall—already known for changing his tie six times a day—about how frequently Wall could change clothes. Wall won by changing his outfit 40 times between breakfast and dinner, which hardly dented his collection of 5000 ties.

tim_gunn

Wall died in 1840, leaving behind an estate of just over $12000—because he had “squandered nearly every cent on pleasure.” There’s an aspirational thing for my obituary.

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