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.