Dandy versus metrosexual

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      I don't know if it's still a standard, but when I was a kid one tune that charted high on the preschool playground's Top of the Pops was Yankee Doodle Dandy. You know, about the guy who went to town riding on a pony. "He stuck a feather in his cap and called it Macaroni," we warbled over our cookies and milk, unaware of the lyric's social significance. I would never have guessed that the jingle had a place in the history of men's fashion.

      The nursery rhyme was penned around the time of the American Revolution to ridicule stateside provincials who had pretensions of style and taste. It compared them to a group of English fops who flounced from one posh parlour to another, flaunting the latest fashions and food from France and Italy, which earned them the name Macaroni Club. They wore silk stockings and breeches, luxurious vests and coats, bejewelled pumps, and voluminous, ruffled cravats. The tiny tricorn hat they wore perched on top of mile-high, powdered wigs was called a "macaroni".

      Today, metrosexual is used to describe an urban heterosexual male in touch with his inner Carrie Bradshaw. But don't confuse him with a dandy. Created by advertising execs, consumed by consumption, he is a gay stereotype trapped in a straight cliché, sipping crantinis in between shopping, the gym, and laser hair-removal appointments. Contrary to popular belief, not all gay men were born with the Manolo-detection gene any more than all straight men were born scratching their crotches.

      Once upon a time, after the fops and before the metrosexuals, dandy referred to a well-mannered fellow who dressed with flair and knew a thing or two about art, literature, gentlemanly sports, and the finer things in life. He was just as likely to fancy the ladies as the lads. The dandy did not follow trends; he set standards. The metrosexual is his flickering holograph.

      At a cocktail party, you'd be well-advised to skirt around the metrosexual and sidle up to the dandy, if you can find one. The metrosexual would be the clotheshorse checking out his freshly dermabraded complexion in the mirror over the mantelpiece. A dandy never consults the looking glass in public because he is confident. This frees him up to show off the dandy's must-have accessory: a keen, sly wit.

      "Tailoring is very important. A dandy isn't excessive," Christian M. Chensvold says over the phone from his home in Hollywood. Chensvold, a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in L'Uomo Vogue, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere, is Webmaster of Dandyism.net (www.dandyism.net/), an on-line sanctuary for 21st-century dandies. The cheeky site features submissions from correspondents in London, Paris, and New York, and departments such as The Diabolical Monocle and The Runway.

      Chensvold became fascinated by the dandiest of American writers, Tom Wolfe, while studying English literature in university in the late '80s. He asserts that the dandy isn't a fashion slave but a well-dressed philosopher. "I don't think too many metrosexuals can quote Alexander Pope."

      Chensvold cites early-19th-century English man about town Beau Brummell and the mid-19th-century French symbolist poet, critic, and essayist Charles Baudelaire as dandyism's most influential figureheads. A graph of "dandy genealogy" is available on his site. It divides the dandy into two types: Brummell represents the arbiter elegantiarum, Baudelaire the radical bohemian.

      "One is the social dandy and the other is the artistic dandy," Chensvold says. "There is a misconception that Brummell was flamboyant. He was subdued compared to the 18th-century fops that preceded him. The '50s film version of Beau Brummell starring Stuart Grainger got almost everything wrong except the way he dressed. He wore white shirts and dark, form-fitting, tailored jackets and trousers. In fact, he was responsible for the trouser as we know it, and his contribution to tailoring led to the modern business suit."

      Brummell also paved the way for the modern necktie by removing ruffles from the cravat and flattening it with starch.

      Then, in 1844, Baudelaire published an essay called The Dandy, which introduced a philosophical, ascetic aspect. "He saw the dandy as something almost priestly."

      Brummell's camp comprises the likes of Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, James Bond (Sean Connery's version, I should think), and Prince Charles. On Baudelaire's team we find such luminaries as Oscar Wilde, Eugene Delacroix, Marcel Proust, and--wait for it--Andre 3000!

      It should be said that a dandy's life is not all poise, fine clothes, and glittering quips. Brummell died penniless in a French insane asylum, a social outcast. Baudelaire, who suffered from depression his whole life, was broke and paralyzed by venereal disease when he died in a French sanatorium, a social outcast. Wilde, his body and spirit broken by time spent in prison, died without two pennies to rub together in a French hotel, a social outcast. If Andre 3000 is indeed representative of the modern-day dandy, then how prescient of him to call his band Outkast.