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dandy

The Knut, or the Edwardian Man-About-Town

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Basil Hallam as "Gilbert the Filbert"
Basil Hallam as “Gilbert the Filbert” via The Sunday Times

The Regency era Corinthian, the Parisian flâneur, and the Broadway playboy had its late Edwardian England counterpart in the knut. The word was popularized in the revue The Passing Show, which opened at the Palace Theatre in April 1914, and made an instant star of its lead actor, Basil Hallam when he sang “Gilbert the Filbert,” whose rousing chorus made the song infectiously popular with audiences:

I’M GILBERT, the filbert,
The nut with a k.,
The pride of Piccadilly,
The blasé roué;
Oh, Hades, the ladies,
They’d leave their wooden huts
For Gilbert, the filbert,
The colonel of the nuts.

P.G. Wodehouse immortalized the knut, or “drone” in his particular parlance, in his works, stating (in the preface to Joy in the Morning): “The Edwardian knut was never an angry young man. He would get a little cross, perhaps, if his man Meadowes sent him out some morning with odd spats on, but his normal outlook on life was sunny. He was humble, kindly soul, who knew he was a silly ass but hoped you wouldn’t mind. He liked everybody, and most people like him. Portrayed on the stage by George Grossmith and G. P. Huntley, he was a lovable figure, warming the hearts of all. You might disapprove of him not being a world’s worker, but you could not help being fond of him…Most knuts were younger sons, and in the reign of good King Edward the position of the younger son in aristocratic families was . . . what’s the word, Jeeves?, Anomolous? You’re sure? Right ho, anomolous. Thank you, Jeeves. Putting it another way, he was a trifle the superfluous side, his standing about that of the litter kittens which the household cat deposits in the drawer where you keep your clean shirts.”

Further Reading

THE KNUTS O’ LONDON: Desperate Fellows All, and the Distinction Between the “Knut” and the “Blood” Nuts by P. G. Wodehouse – Vanity Fair (Sept. 1914)
The Last of the Nuts
Basil Hallam Radford also known as ‘ Gilbert the Filbert’

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Edwardian Halloween Costume: The Dandy

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Indulge in your inner Oscar Wilde or Max Beerbohm in a bespoke suite (okay, maybe not bespoke, but you can fake it), shiny spats and shoes, an Ascot tie, and a single tie pin placed just so.

The key word is slim fit for the suit. In the Edwardian era, the English cut was narrower in the chest, and the French cut even tighter in tailoring. However, the trend for men’s suits tend to be sold in the looser fit favored by American men, so I’m going to give as close examples as I can find.

Such as this tuxedo by Tommy Hilfiger:

Tommy Hilfiger Suit

Or this three-piece suit by DKNY:

DKNY Suit

Next, try on a wing collar shirt, found at Man of Fashion for about $40:

Wing Collar shirt

Add a dash of elegance with mother of pearl cuff links from Banana Republic for $39:

Cuff links

Try on an Ascot tie for $39 from Fine and Dandy:

Ascot Tie

In his 1900 book, Clothes & the Man, Edward Spencer gives directions on tying a proper Ascot tie:

Begin with an Ascot tie. Put the tie round your neck, and let the ends hang level. Tie in a single knot by bringing the left-hand over the right. Pull the end slightly, so that the left-hand one covers the right. (Don’t drag it away from the stud ; if you “find it slipping, tie the knot a little tighter.) Take hold of the left-hand end—which is on the top—and bring it upwards and inwards to the left until it is at right angles to the right. In that position the “wrong” side of the tie (presuming that you are using a tie with a “wrong” side) will be shown ; then fold the right-hand end underneath, showing the “wrong” side in front. Pull the right-hand end through the loop which has been formed by the left-hand end. Pull the right-hand end quite through until it is at right angles to the knot, and in a line with the left hand. The knot is then made, and all you have to do is to let the two ends fall into the proper position, and then secure them with a pin.

You can find a tie pin at Fine and Dandy as well, for $15:

Tie Pin

Top off the look with a pocket square tucked into the breast pocket and a boutonniere placed in the top button loop:

Pocket Square

To go that extra dandy mile, might I suggest sock garters, gloves (Hugh, Earl of Lonsdale favored canary yellow gloves), and spats to cover your dress shoes? Or perhaps an top hat and cape, if you want to appear more dashing.

And clean shaven is the rule, rather than the exception, as seen in the quintessential Arrow Collar man, as illustrated by J. C. Leyendecker:

J. C. Leyendecker

Part your hair in the middle, slick it down with a can of brilliantine, check your appearance in the mirror–excuse me, looking glass–make certain your valet dressed you correctly for the time of day, douse your person liberally with sandalwood or vetiver (scents from Geo. F Trumper were favored by Edward VII), and on the swing of a walking stick (neat rapier, or monocle attachment hidden in a secret compartment), stroll like a flâneur down your neighborhood streets this Halloween.

Make Oscar proud.

Oscar Wilde

The Dandy

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In a manner, the dandy was the male counterpart of the professional beauty: he had no other occupation than to devote himself to being clever, witty, well-dressed and amusing. Much like the Regency dandy, the Edwardian version flourished in an era where birth and breeding were no longer indicative of entrance into exclusive circles of society.

In England, King Edward set the standard by his attention to the finer details of dress. So acute were his sensibilities, he was not above rebuking a subject for not appearing up to date: as in the case of the Marquess of Salisbury, who, rushing to a Drawing Room and dressing without his valet, horrified the Prince of Wales by his haphazard attire (according to an account, Lord Salisbury ironically replied, “It was a dark morning, and I am afraid that at the moment my mind must have been occupied by some subject of less importance.”), or with the American-born Duchess of Marlborough, who was coldly rebuked by the king when she appeared at a supper wearing diamond combs in her hair instead of a tiara, like the Queen (to this, Consuelo quietly answered she had little time to change, having hurried home from a charity event). Under his aegis, it was very important to know exactly when to wear the right clothes, as any departure from the norm was regarded as a social gaffe.Joseph Chamberlain

As such, the 1880s and 1890s found dandyism once more of good repute. The English dandy oddly enough, was most likely found in the Houses of Parliament. With the exception of W.E. Gladstone, new standards of sartorial elegance were set, most notably by Lord Randolph Churchill and Joseph Chamberlain, whose image became synonymous with the ever-present monocle, silk hat and orchid boutonnière he wore. On stage, the plays of Shaw, Pinero and Wilde demanded super-fine, even fantastical costumes for the male characters, and the “fashionable novel,” which depicted the lives of the upper classes, made a triumphant return, and every one had its chorus of showy dandies. In 1889, the London weekly, Vanity Fair, debuted a new column, “The Fashion for Men” by “the Man in the Mall”, whose author wrote detailed recommendations for “stiff collars, velvet bands, true and false waistcoats, peg-top trousers, yellow gloves, gilded sticks, and violet boutonnières”.

oscar_wilde1The most notorious dandy of this period was, of course, Oscar Wilde. His early years were spent in the standard clothing of a middle-class young man: tiny Bowler tipped rakishly over a brow, bright tweeds and comfortable trousers, waistcoat and jacket. By the end of his term at Oxford, he set himself on the path to becoming “Professor of Aesthetics” and dressed the part in knee breeches, a flowing tie, velvet coat, wide, turned-down collar, and a drooping lily. Laying siege to London society, he quickly conquered such notables as Henry Irving, Sarah Bernhardt, Lillie Langtry and Ellen Terry, among others, by writing them countless invitations to supper, flower arrangements and requests for photographs. These celebrities, and anyone with which they associated, were news, and by 1880, two years after Wilde came down from Oxford, he was a star. Moving from strength to strength in the ’80s, by the wit of his pen and sweat of his violet-scented brow, Wilde’s plays reached the stage, and to wild success. As he achieved both financial security and creative success, his style of dress changed from that of languid Aesthete to the florid Regency-era dandy. In the ’90s, fame, brought about by his plays, replaced the trivial notoriety of his earlier years, and his dress became coldly correct, Wilde expressing his individuality with a single detail: a green boutonnière, a bright red waistcoat, or a turquoise and diamond stud.

beerbohmCaricatures of Max Beerbohm show him attired in a high stiff collar, gloves, a carefully tilted silk hat, a cane, a boutonnière, an artfully bulging frock coat, and tapering trousers–the basic equipment for the ’90s dandy of the most correct school. A contemporary of Wilde’s, and half-brother to celebrated actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Max Beerbohm exemplified the Edwardian dandy. As befitting a proper dandy of this period, he was in much demand as a guest at the great dinner parties of Mayfair, where he was considered by many to be the greatest wit in town. His inspiration came directly from Brummell and D’Orsay, and as the era experienced a revival in the 1880s and 1890s, materializing in numerous plays, and reprinted memoirs and biographies,it was as “prophet” of the English Regency that his reputation was made.

Across the Channel, the French dandy was personified in many of le gratin‘s gentlemen, most notably Comte Robert de Montesquiou and Comte Boni de Castellane. Both gentlemen were members of France’s most elite aristocracy, and both had a reputation for decadence and bizarre ostentation. The favorite subject of Comte Robert de Montesquiou was himself, and his vanity prompted him to commission innumerable portraits of himself. To any criticism, he was indifferent, saying “It is better to be hated than to be unknown.” Descending from the count_robert_de_montesquiou1dukes of Gascony and the Merovingian kings, he was exceedingly proud of his royal connections and, sublimely self-assured, he held sway over a worshipful band of muses, literary ladies and young Symbolists. He selected his costume based upon his moods, and could turn up in sky-blue, or his famous almond-green outfit with a white velvet waistcoat. His collection of scarf pins was notorious; ranging in motif from an emerald butterfly to an onyx death’s head. On a finger, he wore a large signet ring with a crystal hollowed out to contain one human tear. Adding to this affectation was Comte Robert’s place of residence. Living on the top floor of his father’s hotel prive, his remote suite of rooms were reached by climbing a dark, twisting staircase and passing through a carpeted tunnel lined with tapestry. In this suite were fantastical rooms decorated by his various moods: a pink room, a gray room (for which he ransacked flower stalls daily for gray flowers), a room featuring a Russian sleigh and polar-bear rug, and a library housed in a glass conservatory.

Though his wife was extremely plain, Anna Gould had a dowry of fifteen million dollars. Bolstered by this, Boni de Castellane devoted himself to thecastellane art of dandyism, spending those millions lavishly on the construction of the Palais Rose, a pink marble palace in the Avenue du Bois fitted with a staircase as grand as that of the Opera, an immense ballroom and a private theatre with five hundred seats; maintaining two châteaux in the country, a villa at Deauville and a 1600-ton yacht; buying priceless works of art; and becoming the best dressed man in Europe. Despite his spendthrift behavior, Comte Boni was a person of polish and culture, who could converse on any subject. His only crime was to have been born in the wrong century, for he adored the court of eighteenth century Versailles, and did anything to recreate the bygone era. His reign came to an abrupt end, however, in 1906 when he arrived home to discover the electricity out. After eleven years of marriage, five children and the spending of $10 million of her dowry, Anna Gould had filed for divorce. She cut off his funds, threw him out of his houses and sent his clothes, his only remaining fortune, to him in care of his parents and shortly thereafter, married his cousin.

The outbreak of the Great War brought la belle epoque to an abrupt end, and with it, the dandy. Certainly gentlemen since have cared greatly for their appearance, but the art, the cultivation of it, and even the acceptance and admiration of it by both men and women, seems strictly the province of the long nineteenth century.

Further Reading:
The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm by Ellen Moers
Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Masculinity by James Eli Adams
Dandies by James Laver
Theatre and Fashion: Oscar Wilde to the Suffragettes by Joel H. Kaplan and Sheila Stowell
Dressed to Rule: Royal and Court Costume from Louis XIV to Elizabeth II by Philip Mansel