Beau Brummell took Regency England by storm with his devious good looks, witticism, and fashion sense. He was an ideal dandy, meaning a man who placed importance in his appearance, pursued his passions to the utmost, and adhered to romantic ideals.
Beau took these beliefs to heart, taking great pains with his wardrobe. He disdained elaborate clothing, instead preferring to strut around London in simpler clothing: his signature dark, tailored coats, tight-fitting trousers, and intricately knotted cravats. Beau’s wardrobe would evolve into the modern day suit and tie. However, this is all he’s remembered for contributing to history.
One of Beau’s contemporaries, J.A. Barbey d’Aurevilly, observed his fame was “based on nothing at all.” A man with such self-importance, stressing the necessity of beauty, was bound to be the ultimate diva. Here’s 6 times he proved exactly that.
1) It took him 5 hours to dress. Somehow, a man who believed in simplicity in his fashion took nearly a fifth of the day donning his clothes. Sure, his cravats were held together by elaborate knots. He invented the starched cravat, after all, but does it really take that long to slip into some trousers?
2) He allowed others to watch him dress. Men seeking fashion advice often sought out Beau. In doing so, he tortured these poor men with the boredom of observing him at his “toilet” for those five tedious hours. I hope those men were served a nice tea tray while they watched!
3) He polished his boots with champagne. There’s two reasons why he might’ve used such an expensive commodity as polish. Firstly, Beau believed using champagne as polish gave his shoes a superior shine. Secondly, he might have also been motivated by patriotism. England was entangled in the Napoleonic Wars at the time and using one of France’s finest exports, champagne, was possibly his equivalent to the middle finger.
4) He really laid down the money when it came to his wardrobe. Beau was once asked his opinion on how much it might cost to keep a man clothed. Beau remarked, “Why, with tolerable economy, I think it might be done with £800.” A footman was only paid £20 a year, while a butler might make £40-£60 a year.
5) He kept three hair stylists. No joke, this man kept three servants who specialized in cutting different regions of his hair: his bangs, his sideburns, and the back of his head.
6) He became so vain, he dissed his BFF the Prince Regent. In the late 1790s, Beau Brummell became besties with the future Prince Regent. Their relationship thrived for over a decade, but it grew rocky as the years progressed. At a masquerade ball in July 1813, Beau signed off the friendship’s death warrant when the Prince Regent approached Beau and his set of friends, Lord Alvanley, Henry Mildmay and Henry Pierrepoint. The Prince Regent ignored Beau, and so in response, Beau turned to Lord Alvanley, and quipped, “Alvanley, who’s your fat friend?” That “fat friend” happened to be the Prince Regent. This petty remark led to Beau’s being ostracized from London society.
Beau Brummell’s decadent lifestyle, lavish wardrobe, and rudeness toward the Prince Regent led to his downfall. By 1816, he owed thousands of pounds to creditors. He fled to France to avoid being tossed into debtor’s prison. However, Beau’s descent didn’t end there.
He wandered through France for many years. His looks disappeared during his travels. He became bald, lost many of his teeth, and dressed in dirty, unkempt clothes—the polar opposite of his younger self.
By 1835, he’d found himself in debtor’s prison. Even though a few of his friends gained his release shortly after, he was penniless, syphilitic, and insane. He was taken to an insane asylum, where he died in 1840. A tragic end for a fashion icon, but on the other hand, fitting for someone who spent his early years as a stuck-up diva.
Beau Brummell: The Original Gentleman of Style by Dr. Christopher Lee
George “Beau” Brummell: The Originator of Dandyism by Christopher Modoo
The Prince of Dandies by Nicholas Storey
Servants in the Regency Era by April Kihlstrom
The Spectacular Rise And Fall Of English Dandy Beau Brummell by Rachel Souerbry
This 19th Century Dandy Caused A Style Revolution by Ignacio Peyro
The Wits and Beaux of Society by Grace and Philip Wharton
Thanks for this fascinating post. His life calls to mind something of Oscar Wilde’s THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GREY. Very interesting.