Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Dandy by Ian Kelly - review by Frances Wilson

Frances Wilson

The First Metrosexual

Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Dandy


Hodder & Stoughton 578pp £20

Beau Brummell was famous in his time for washing at least once a day and tying a perfect neckcloth. So great was his skill in both areas that he achieved what was otherwise unknown for a boy from a middle-class home: he became an honorary member of the Regency aristocracy. In a comic reversal of roles, the Beau’s elaborate levees were attended by the Regent, and the Regent was made fashionable by his friendship with the Beau. (‘I made him what he is, and I can unmake him,’ Brummell later said of his royal friend.) He was truly the son of the French Revolution, as Ian Kelly argues in this grand new account of the rapid rise and fall of the ultimate Regency dandy. If Brummell could masquerade as socially superior, anyone could; he was ‘a man whose style made it possible for Everyman to act like a prince’; his dandyism ‘marked the death of kings, and the dawn of modern concepts of self’.  What’s more, for all his snobbism, Brummell showed how the common man could dress well. The starched neckcloth ‘was the beginnings of his anti-style style: a simple perfection of line that took attention and know-how … but did not, per se, require wealth.’ 

Brummell’s anti-style mirrored the age. Understated, restrained, rational and utterly unfoppish, he was anything but the flamboyant ‘dandy’ we associate with the term, a role which was anyway filled by the prince, dolled up to the nines as he was in pink ribbons and bows. Brummell advocated the wearing of

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