The extent to which nineteenth-century women’s dress impeded mobility is almost a cliché—dresses that weighed in excess of twenty pounds, hoop skirts, balloon sleeves larger than door-frames.  But I was surprised to discover just how inhibiting men’s dress could be as well.  I finally got around to reading Ellen Moer’s book on The Dandy (1960—I can’t think of many other books still read as criticism after 50 years!).  And, more often than not, I found myself agog with the physical demands of the dandy’s toilette.  Moers writes that “Regency clothes made slouching, possibly even bending, impossible” (61).  Bulwer-Lytton, writing of the Brummell-style of dress in Cambridge, says:  “The style of dress worn of an evening by gentleman contributed, perhaps, to forbid slovenliness of step and maintain a certain stateliness and grace” (qtd in Moers, 71).  My favourite tidbit about the way that dandyism sculpted the male body was “the dandy pretence of near-sightedness” which was “a Regency affectation facilitating the art of the cut”  (115).  I hate to think what kind of purposes feigned near-sightedness could be put to in the academy!  (Did I owe you a paper?  Why, I didn’t see you!)

Of course, at a certain point, these garments are not hampering natural movement but naturalizing a new kind of movement.  Would a dandy be a dandy if his garments were so loose he could run down the Pall Mall?  I think not.  Still, for those of us who wrote most of their dissertations in pajamas, the thought of devoting Beau Brummell’s two hours to grooming every day is a bit much!

Ellen Moers—The Dandy:  Brummell to Beerbohm.  New York:  The Viking Press, 1960.


2 thoughts on “the dandiacal body

  1. I’d never thought of the dandy’s dress in this way, Karen – thanks for this post! I just came across this Eliot quote from Daniel Deronda, which pits her “English gentleman” in deep sartorial battle against the dandy you’ve described: “The strong point of the English gentleman pure is the easy style of his figure and clothing; he objects to marked ins and outs of his costume, and he also objects to looking inspired.” That’s quite a bit of objection, if you ask me…

  2. I would be forever grateful if someone could explain to me Carlyle’s point of view on the Dandy in his chapter on “The Dandiacal Body” in Sartor Resartus…

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