STEAMFUNK DANDIES: Black Men & Women of Distinction in the Age of Steam!
In an earlier post – THE MAHOGANY MASQUERADE: The Politics of Fashion in Steamfunk – we looked at the relationship between politics and fashion. Now, as part of our League of Extraordinary Black People series, we will examine the embodiment of this relationship – the Black Dandy.
Dandyism was initially imposed on black men in eighteenth-century England, as the Atlantic slave trade and an emerging culture of conspicuous consumption generated a vogue in dandified black servants.
“Luxury slaves” tweaked and reworked their uniforms, and were soon known for their sartorial novelty and sometimes flamboyant personalities.
One of the most famous dandies was Julius Soubise, a freed slave who often wore diamond-buckled, red-heeled shoes as he circulated through the social scene of eighteenth-century London.
The magic of dandyism resides in the interplay between the dandy’s temperament and his appearance. Yet it is not a question of simple harmony, for one dandy may combine severe dress with a jocular demeanor, while another meshes cold aloofness with colorful and audacious dress.
The qualities that comprise the anatomy of the dandy, ranked in order of importance, are:
1. Physical distinction
Dandyism can only be painted on a suitable canvas. It is impossible to cut a dandy figure without being tall, slender and handsome, or having at least one of those characteristics to a high degree while remaining at least average in the other two.
Elegance, of course, as defined by the standards of a dandy’s particular era.
The dandy’s independence, assurance, originality, self-control and refinement should all be visible in the cut of his clothes. Dandies must love contemporary costume and their dress should be free from folly or affectation.
Dandies must possess a staunch determination to remain unmoved and an immense calm. Should a dandy suffer pain, he should keep smiling.
While self-mastery is the internal practice of keeping emotions in check, aplomb is how it is expressed to the dandy’s audience. Dandyism introduces antique calm among our modern agitations.
Ideally, a dandy should be financially independent, but if the dandy is forced to work, a spirit of independence will be expressed through his work. Independence – often to the point of aloofness – will also characterize the dandy’s dealings with the world.
A dandy should possess a paradoxical way of talking lightly of the serious and seriously of the light.
7. A skeptical, world-weary, sophisticated, bored or blasé demeanor
8. A self-mocking and ultimately endearing egotism
10. Discriminating taste
11. A renaissance man
A dandy ought to dress well, dance well, fence well, have a genius for love letters, and an agreeable voice for a chamber.
Because dandies are an enigma and because dandyism makes its own rules, the final quality is the ability to negate all the other ones, for in the end, there is not a code of dandyism. If there were, anybody could be a dandy.
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Great article! Very informative.
Thanks, Cap'n Tony!
Cap'n Tony said:
Great article! Very informative.