Fine and Dandy

Britain has a long, honourable tradition of dandies, men who both take great pride in and pay much attention to their appearance. The first, and arguably best of these colourful characters was George Bryan Brummell, better known by his nickname Beau.

No less an ego than Byron said of him, “There are three great men of our age: myself, Napoleon and Brummell. But of we three, the greatest of all is Brummell”.

No longer was sophistication to be signified by wrapping oneself in furs and silks; he was the first person to advocate that masculine elegance is best expressed by neutrally coloured clothes cut with the precision for which Savile Row would become famous. Not for Beau Brummell the fripperies of perfume or jewellery, both of which he abjured, but rather the search for an elegance of line and cultivation of cleanliness, the latter being more of an achievement in the squalour of Regency London. He would stress the masculine physique by avoiding the billowy, decorated tunics of the past to wear a more contemporary dress shirt, tailored for his body and accessorised by a cravat, which he spent time on developing increasingly intricate and elaborate knots for.

Stewart Granger as Beau Brummell

Brummell rejected the use of breeches and stockings, and instead introduced full-length formal trousers with matching or contrasting jackets, ideally a darker jacket worn over a lighter shirt.

Essentially, Brummell introduced what we now know as the suit to men’s fashion. Exceptionally well-fitting, because hand-tailored bespoke suits, to be precise.

This was a new aesthetic, stressing that less Is more, which would affect the future of men’s fashion to this day – when was the last time you saw a man wearing a periwig, which was the style Brummell was railing against? And rail Brummell did, sitting in the window of his London club sneering at the fops on parade outside, dressed in the fashions of the French.

It should be remembered that at this point, Britain was fighting the French in the Napoleonic Wars, so polishing his shoes with champagne was maybe more of a diss to the French than a sign of decadence.

James Purefoy as Beau Brummell

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Brummell’s life is that he achieved such fame and  influence by becoming the first British person to be famous simply for being famous – a proto celebrity as it were – while not being an aristocrat.

Which is not to imply that he came from the lower orders – the son of  a politician, he enjoyed the privilege of an Eton education.

He used his style, good looks and intelligence to break through the ranks of the aristocracy, and even befriend and influence the Prince Regent, the future King George VI.

However, while he sought to rival, and even outdo the aristocracy in their wardrobes, they had one thing he didn’t – loads of money.

Having run up substantial tailor’s bills, he fled to France, living in exile until he was caught and forced to work in debtor’s prison. He would die there of syphilis, another reckoning of accounts for his previous lifestyle, at the age of 61.

He is still remembered to this day, and commemorated by a statue in Jermyn Street, one of the tailoring centres of London.

True British Style

British men are a byword for style the world over, and have been since the swinging sixties, when London became the style capital of the world. British men are uniquely lucky in that we have both our immaculate tradition of tailoring to draw on, coupled with our rich heritage of street styles and subcultures. Britannia is still cool, and the world’s eyes are still on us.

How best to rock the British style, you may well ask? Here are five tips to help you make the most of your personal style.

Wear One Tailored Piece – British men look good in a suit, but that doesn’t mean we have to wear them 24/7. Why not mix up your wardrobe by wearing just one tailored item – such as a jacket, or a well-cut pair of trousers – that fits you perfectly? Then, the rest will take care of itself.

 Mix and Match – Don’t be scared to be eclectic – that tailored jacket could go perfectly with a pair of jeans. Play with juxtapositions of colour and pattern, such as coloured shirts against tweeds, and play with your accessories – polka dot socks or an electric blue scarf will make you stand out.

Dress With a Feminine Twist – British dandies have been playing with gender fluidity for decades, with rock stars such as Keith Richards and David Bowie, and comedians who think they’re rock stars, from Russell Brand to Noel Fielding mastering a new style of heterosexual camp. Wearing clothes cut from traditionally feminine fabrics, or even a traditionally feminine cut, whether velvet jackets or silk scarves, make a dynamic contrast when paired with classically masculine clothes – and ladies love the look.

How to Dress Well – Great British Eccentric, George Melly

Stand Out – But Not Too Much – In Paris, people dress kind of samey, and outdo each other through the quality of their clothing, the elegance of the cut and the quality of the fabric. In Britain, you can stand out by embracing your individual style, All of the tips we’ve given you above should help you find – and express – yourself, in fashion. Run riot, but within reason. You want to look like an individual, possibly a great English eccentric – not a children’s TV presenter.

How NOT to Dress – Timmy Mallett, who scarred so many of our childhoods

So that’s our guide to dressing in the best of British style – above all, have fun with it.