In his advocacy of the straightforward, clean line of men's dress, Beau Brummell single-handedly launched the 150-year reign of the clean shirt-and-tie mentality. A blue coat, a buff waistcoat and pantaloons, together with black boots could, and should, be worn by anyone with pretensions to being well dressed. The more simple and uniform a man's general attire, the better, insisted Beau. "Gentlemen are known for their discretion and lack of vulgar show," said he. But when it came to the thing around the neck, men of distinction stepped away from the off-the-rack mentality, and expressed their individuality in the shape, size, and stiffness of the hanging thing. Beau himself was known for a particularly neat, sensible, and well-starched cravat, which he changed as many as 3 times daily. Exactly how he knotted the thing was the secret of his boudoir, where Beau spent as long as necessary to arrange his linen. The Prince Regent, curious to study the cravat-knotting prowess of Brummell, once spent an entire morning trying to emulate the refined technique of the arbiter of English elegance. Poets satirised the rite:
My neckcloth of course, forms my principal care,
For by that we criterions of elegance swear,
And costs me, each morning, some hours of flurry,
To make it appear to be tied in a hurry.
But the rest of the gentile Anglophone world furiously aped Brummell's dandyism.
The crazed English attention to neckwear was not without a political dimension. Across the channel, Napoleon was overrunning Europe wearing a mere black stock, while the majority of gentile Frenchmen were still sporting lace cravats. By their firmer and more erect neckwear, the English were in fact expressing their martial superiority over the French. On the day of the battle of Waterloo, The Duke of Wellington (nicknamed "the Dandy" by his soldiers) took to the field of battle in an immaculate, and quite stiff, cravat. Napoleon, perhaps oblivious to the strategic importance of power dressing, exchanged his usual black stock for a flowing white handkerchief, tied in a bow about his neck. Wellington, after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, was fond of remarking "The history of a battle is not unlike the history of a ball."
In addition to simplifying the neck cloth, Beau is also said to have founded the modern business suit:
Brummell rejected 18th century frills. His mandate, a dark blue coat, buff-coloured pantaloons and waistcoat, black boots and a clean white neck cloth, survives today as the dark business suit, white shirt and silk tie.
The simplicity of Brummell's uniform was adopted by everyone from many working men to his friend, the Prince Regent, later King George IV. For the first time, poorer men hoping to make their way in the world could easily imitate upper class fashion.
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- Read archived posts about Beau Brummell here.