The epitome of a Regency dandy was a young man by the name of George Brummell. George did not grow up in the lap of luxury—his grandfather was rumored to be a personal servant—but his father was secretary to Lord North, and he was sent to Eton at the age of twelve in 1790, where he became very popular. Because of his attention to fashion and grooming, it wasn’t long before he became a great friend of the Prince Regent, who, in 1794, gave him a commission in his own regiment, the 10th Hussars. Brummell, nicknamed “Buck” by his intimates, spent most of his time on military leave, until he inherited 30,000 pounds and resigned, setting up his own household in 1798 at No. 4 Chesterfield Street.
Brummell decreed that cut and fit in a gentleman’s clothing were more important than elaborate fabrics. His insistence on cleanliness had the effect of pulling English gentlemen out of the stables and into the baths, and then poured into closely-fitting, well-cut clothing, including snow-white neckcloths tied into elaborate knots, smoothly shaved faces, and hair that required three hairdressers—one for the front, one for the sides and one for the back.
“The Beau” was known for his audacious wit and his condescending comments centering on the bad taste of others, men and women alike. A set-down from him could ruin a young person’s reputation and send them running from London in shame. Brummell and his dandies made it unfashionable to show emotion or any concern for the consequences of their actions. Although he had no social standing of his own, he had even the highest-ranked gentlemen admiring and copying his dress and behavior. Along with Lord Alvanley, Henry Pierpont and Henry Mildmay, he was part of the “Dandy Club” of Watier’s.
Unfortunately, Brummell’s extravagance, gambling and sharp tongue also led to his downfall. In 1813 at a party, the Prince Regent snubbed Brummell and Mildmay, staring them in the face while refusing to speak to them. Brummell quipped to Alvanley, “Who is your fat friend?” and that was the beginning of the end for Brummell.
In 1816 he fled to Calais where he lived in poverty until his death of syphilis in 1840.
Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.