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The Dandy is a Unicorn

Take a look at what Dita Von Teese thinks of these convention-breaking shape-shifters in the book, We Are Dandy

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As aesthetes by nature over birth, individuals who nurture insatiable desires to transcend the state in which we entered into this world, the dandy and I share more in the uncommon than not. Why, a dandy is my male equivalent. I consider it manifest destiny that I count so many dandies among my friends… and lovers.

That’s right. Just as it is ill-advised to assume all dandies look and live equally, only a philistine would think they all love the same. I have dated dandies. I was married to a certifiable heterosexual man who is undeniably a dandy. Like-mindedness is seductive, particularly between those who think and act and dress at odds with the rest of society. 

Practicing dandies or not, the men I’ve been intimately involved with have exceptional taste. A potential paramour has to dress well. He has to be well groomed. Good manners are non-negotiable. These qualities are deal-breakers, if only because a mutual respect along with a joint appreciation of beautiful clothes and shoes and the rest of the dazzling trappings can be such pleasures. 

Of course, as that chestnut rings so true, a fringe benefit of sharing in the delight of an exquisite ensemble is that it only raises the stakes when that someone worthy requests you take it off. 

Call them swells, fops, boulevardiers, bon vivants, men about town. But do not for a minute dismiss dandies as layabouts. It involves great diligence and consideration to pull this off day after day. To be a dandy at the level that the men in [these pages] practice is nothing short of an art form. One cannot achieve this height of style without intelligence and purpose. 

These men are transgressing against contemporary life: they are time travelers cherry-picking embellishments and essentials from another epoch or three, tripping past periods fantastic on a journey to a more authentic self. I know all about this from my own experience. 

I also know it takes bravery to dress like this, to go out in the world and be repeatedly asked by strangers “What’s the occasion?,” to be catcalled “Wake up, it ain’t 1950!” or to hear whispers behind my back (some even accusing me of posing as Dita Von Teese!). I empathize with the boldness and commitment to the life and style these rare birds dubbed dandies have devoted themselves to sharing with the world—whether that world is receptive or not. 

Appearance is not always about being accepted or embraced. Something deeper is materializing. The reasons are as varied as there are fingerprints, of course, and, possibly no more so when it comes to the eccentric creature. Given the circumstances so many of the men here are facing, their triumphs reveal how genuinely comfortable they are with their body and spirit, with their place in this world, with all its sticks and stones. It’s not always easy to live on your own terms. I know this, too. But it would hurt more to spend our time compromising our ideals, our dreams and our integrity. 

Like these men, I have some genuine obsessions I can’t altogether explain. When they become the norm, I might even lose interest. I’ve never wanted to look like someone else, and neither have the men in [these pages]. These individuals don’t expend energies wishing they could look like other men. 

As for being two peas in a pod, I’m not so far off in my assessment. History, at least dating back to the early part of the last century, holds up my claim, when a certain kind of feminist emerged with a penchant for tapping men’s wardrobes and brazenness for equal social power. Be it Gabrielle [Coco] Chanel or Marlene Dietrich, the quaintrelle is the female answer to the dandy, a woman with the moxie to revel in a life of beauty, glamour and pleasure. This is not to say quaintrelles or dandies are narcissists. Far from it. They navigate, even survive, life by way of their creative gifts, their intelligence and, more often than not, a generosity of spirit. 

Dandy or quaintrelle, freak or eccentric, whatever they continue to call us today, we prevail and we strive to raise those who are bullied, who need beauty in their lives. I feel a kinship with these courageous, convention-breaking shape-shifters. 

While our numbers might be relatively few, there is strength in them. Every day is another opportunity to re-craft yourself into the individual you imagined yourself to become that day. “A beautiful thing doesn’t have to be new or even particularly valuable or precious, as long as it is a thing to behold. To live a life beautiful is the ultimate joie de vivre . . . ,” I declared in my book, Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Glamour

Likewise, dandyism is not about a trust fund. Dandies and quaintrelles do not always belong to the strata of the idle rich, nor are they idle. It’s about privilege, alright—but one of insight, effort, tenacity… style.” 

Preface by Dita Von Teese, text excerpt from We are Dandy, texts by Nathaniel Adams and photographs by Rose Callahan © Gestalten 2016.