Dandyism is the result of the spontaneous combustion of personality and attire. The desired effect is ignition, not detonation. You want to make an impression on others, not a spectacle of yourself.
So avoid being heavy-handed with any of dandyism’s core elements, even something as rare today as elegance.
It may seem odd to caution against elegance in an age when flip-flops and tank tops are ubiquitous. But in our daily Internet searches for signs of dandyism to occasionally praise and mostly deride, we find that nominal dandies tend to dress in a way that shouts “Behold my splendor!” like a carnival barker. Their putative refinement receives further amplification by the assumed title of “Lord,” “Sir,” et cetera.
Therefore, D.net has enlisted the laconic opinions of a real patrician — John Ian Robert Russell, 13th Duke of Bedford — to act as a corrective. The duke was admittedly a bit dodgey, penning four books for the masses about how to be an aristocrat, selling the ancestral estate, and, worst of all, laboring as a journalist.
Yet he is simpatico with our notion that understatement is the key to making an aristocratic impression, so he must know what he is talking about.
Here are three of his observations from “The Duke of Bedford’s Book of Snobs,” published in 1965:
1) “To be dressed too well is, perhaps, even worse than to be dressed shabbily.”
2) “Clothes should be obviously good, but they must not scream: ‘Look at me, how elegant I am!’ The wearer’s personality should always be stronger than his clothes. You should wear your clothes; never allow your clothes to wear you.”
3) “There are a few people who can wear anything they choose and will always look exquisitely dressed whatever they put on. They may don a sack or convict garb and will still look better dressed than many others in the most expensive Savile Row suits. This, however, cannot be learned. A good figure is not enough. One also needs the right amount of self-assurance mixed with a sense of complete relaxation and a great deal of personality. If you happen to be one of these exceptional men, do not worry about clothing. Just buy some of the late Duke of Norfolk’s cast-offs and you will still be one of the best dressed men in town.”
What sayest thou?
Faithful myrmidons can share their opinions on the Duke’s advice in this forum thread.