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 The female dandy La Calavera de la Catrina (before 1913) by José Guadalupe Posada
The female dandy La Calavera de la Catrina (before 1913) by José Guadalupe Posada

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A dandy is a man who places particular importance upon physical appearance, refined language, and the cultivation of leisurely hobbies. Historically, especially in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain, a dandy often strove to imitate an aristocratic style of life despite being of middle-class background.

Given these connotations, dandyism can be seen as a political protestations against the rise of egalitarian principles — often including nostalgic clinging to feudal or pre-industrial values, such as the ideals of "the perfect gentleman" or "the autonomous aristocrat".

Dandyism in France

The beginnings of dandyism in France were bound up with the politics of the French revolution; the initial stage of dandyism, the gilded youth, was a political statement of dressing in an aristocratic style in order to distinguish its members from the sans-culottes.

During his heyday, Beau Brummell's dictat on both fashion and etiquette reigned supreme. His habits of dress and fashion were much imitated, especially in France, where, in a curious development, they became the rage, especially in bohemian quarters. There, dandies sometimes were celebrated in revolutionary terms: self-created men of consciously designed personality, radically breaking with past traditions. With elaborate dress and idle, decadent styles of life, French bohemian dandies sought to convey contempt for and superiority to bourgeois society. In the latter 19th century, this fancy-dress bohemianism was a major influence on the Symbolist movement in French literature.

Baudelaire was deeply interested in dandyism, and memorably wrote that a dandy aspirant must have "no profession other than elegance ... no other status, but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons ... The dandy must aspire to be sublime without interruption; he must live and sleep before a mirror." Other French intellectuals also were interested in the dandies strolling the streets and boulevards of Paris. Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly wrote The Anatomy of Dandyism, an essay devoted, in great measure, to examining the career of Beau Brummell.

Female dandies

The female counterpart of a dandy is a quaintrelle. In the 1810s, when dandy had a more immature definition of "fop" or "over-the-top fellow", the female equivalents were dandyess or dandizette. Charles Dickens, in All the Year Around (1869) comments, "The dandies and dandizettes of 1819-1820 must have been a strange race. Dandizette was a term applied to feminine devotees to dress and their absurdities were fully equal to those of the dandy." In 1819, the novel Charms of Dandyism was published "by Olivia Moreland, chief of the female dandies"; although probably written by Thomas Ashe, "Olivia Moreland" may have existed, as Ashe did write several novels about living persons. Throughout the novel, dandyism is associated with "living in style".

Later, as the word dandy evolved to denote refinement, it became applied solely to men. Popular Culture and Performance in the Victorian City (2003) notes this evolution in the latter 1800s: "...or dandizette, although the term was increasingly reserved for men." Female dandies became extinct and then went on to develop their own distinct philosophy, quaintrellism, apart from male influences.

Possible 19th century quaintrelles could be found in the demimonde, in such extravagant women as the courtesan Cora Pearl, while the Marchesa Luisa Casati lived a dandy's career in post–World War I Venice. Analogously, the artistic diva might be considered a quaintrelle.

Famous dandies

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Dandy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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