The Elegant Gentleman

David Beckham walking a red carpet is impossible to ignore. Between his sharp attire, his immaculate grooming and his piercing gaze, Beckham oozes a cool charisma. A single word encompasses every characteristic that makes Beckham such an irresistible presence: “dandy.” As Beckham proves, a dandy is more than just a man wearing a bespoke suit with a perfectly tied tie, a polished cane or a colorful boutonnière. While what the dandy wears is vital, how he wears it is even more important. Anyone can wear a suit. But to be a dandy, one must exude so much confidence that the suit becomes like a second skin. He must look good, but he cannot appear as if he is trying too hard. Simultaneously aloof and alluring, he transforms from just a man in nice clothes into a true elegant gentleman.

Dandyism first appeared in 19th century France and Britain and, according to poet and dandy Charles Baudelaire, it represented a new type of aristocracy comprised of the rich and idle. In other words, dandies appeared aristocratic without actually being aristocrats. During this time, men who were classified as dandies had the means to do nothing else in life except dress well and circulate within high society.

Undoubtedly, the most famous and recognizable dandy from this era was poet and playwright Oscar Wilde. Known for his bold fashion choices and his witticisms just as much as for his literary and theatrical works, Wilde strategically used dandyism to further his own fame. As he paired velvet suit jackets and green boutonnières with his sparkling conversational talent, Wilde’s aesthetic display of luxury and charismatic persona allowed him to embody the dandy ideal. His 1882 photoshoot with American photographer Napoleon Sarony is his ultimate dandiacal moment. In one photograph, he wears silk stockings and breeches with slippers while lounging on a carpet-covered divan, languidly resting his head on his hand. In another, he matches a fur-trimmed cape with a cane and a statement ring as he stares penetratingly at the camera. His fashion choices bolstered his image as a man-about-town and continue to captivate centuries later.

Wilde has had a noticeable and lasting impact on the various manifestations of dandyism that followed. The appeal of a magnetic personality donning an immaculate suit with an individualized edge persisted throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood. Film stars like Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra borrowed from historical dandies like Wilde in order to establish their own positions as models of class and sophistication. More recently, the so-called “metrosexual” fashion movement, beginning in the mid-1990s, has propelled dandyism in the modern era. As the global popularity of expertly tailored, European menswear skyrocketed, a group of men emerged within the fashion world defined by their vested interest in style, urbanity and taste.

With the prevalence of fashionable figures in media today, it might seem as if a dandy is present every time a man in a suit walks the red carpet. However, some men in particular exemplify the traits that Wilde initially made famous. David Beckham is a prime example. As a retired British footballer, Beckham currently models, acts as a spokesman for a variety of different companies and is married to singer-turned-designer Victoria Beckham. In other words, his primary job now is to look good and charm the masses, tasks at which he indelibly succeeds. Take, for instance, his appearance at the 2014 Met Gala, where he wore a perfectly fitted, white Ralph Lauren suit jacket with a black bow tie and pants. A printed pocket handkerchief, slicked-back hair, a smirk and a slightly raised eyebrow completed his dandiacal ensemble. Not only did he look the part, he exuded the coolness and confident unapproachability that defines the dandy.

No one epitomizes suaveness more than James Bond, whose alluring indifference triggers an overwhelming obsession in every onlooker he meets. Of all the James Bonds who have graced the silver screen over the last half-century, Daniel Craig’s portrayal exhibits this phenomenon the best. His quintessential black suit, bow tie and expensive watch are the tell-tale signs of the elegant gentleman, but Craig’s aloof, remote, and still irresistibly attractive exterior is really what qualifies him as a dandy above any other filmic iteration of James Bond.

Another man who typifies the dandy is Jude Law. Mainly known for his professional talent, his charming personality, and his good looks, Law has also been a fashion icon throughout his career. Adopting a classic, streamlined style, Law frequently adds interest to his outfits with double-breasted waistcoats, which he wore to the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and to the premiere of the film “Anna Karenina” in the same year. Both instances recall Wilde’s era when waistcoats were an integral part of a Victorian man’s wardrobe, marking the wearer as a true arbiter of fashion. Law’s Victorian-modern hybrid aesthetic was on full display as Dr. Watson in Guy Ritchie’s 2009 stylized adaptation of “Sherlock Holmes.” His clothing ensemble consisted of the obligatory full suit paired with an artfully lopsided top hat, shiny leather gloves and a sleek cane. His calm and slightly arrogant demeanor, apparent from his elevated eyebrow and haughty gaze seen on the film’s poster, transformed Watson from simply Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick into a handsome dandy.

David Beckham, Daniel Craig and Jude Law are only a few of the many modern men who have used dandiacal traits to enhance their own style. Dashing suits, ties and bold pocket squares are not merely tools to just look good; they communicate a dandy’s dedication to a lifestyle of elegance, culture and finesse. In the world of men’s fashion, Oscar Wilde’s legacy is clearly alive and well in the 21st century. The archetype of the elegant gentleman has never faded, showing that the appeal of the dandy is truly timeless. •

by: Rebekah Edwards

Photography by: Harrison Xue

Models: Jade Fabello, Danny Kim and Justin Smith

HMUA: Alessandra Garcia-Fuentes and Tiffany Tong

Stylists: Nikita Kalyana and Travis Young

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