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October 29, 2015 - 7:30am

The art and style of modern dandies discussed at GCC

posted by Howard B. Owens in GCC, fashion.

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Throughout time, in all cultures, there have been men, Rose Callahan told a group of GCC students and faculty yesterday, who might be called "peacocks."

They like to dress with flare, some might even say extravagance, but always with style.

A photographer by trade, Callahan started a project a few years ago to document such men wherever she might find them, pretty much all over the world. The result is a book titled, "The Dandy Portraits: The Lives of Exquisite Gentlemen Today."

"Dandies are more dressed up, more formal, they like wearing suits, ties, cufflinks, hats. It's a little bit of a throwback to earlier times when men cared more about how they dressed. Everybody, in general, cared more about how they dressed."

And dandies care about appearance all of the time. Dandies would never run to the supermarket in sweatpants and a faded Buffalo Bills T-shirt, or stop by Tim Horton's in cargo shorts and flip-flops. But there was a time in American culture when men nearly always wore slacks, a pressed shirt, and a coat or jacket, and usually a hat. Callahan thinks something was lost when we let slip away the need to care about our public image.

"I think when you dress well, you treat people well," Callahan said. "When you dress well, you care more about yourself and when you take care of yourself, you're more often kind to people. It doesn't always go hand-in-hand, but I think it's a start. I think a lot of the men I've profiled and come across know that image is very important in our culture.

"There's a quote, 'dress well and succeed' and I think a lot of men are realizing that now. They dress well for where they want to be. They dress for the job they want to get. They dress to try and better themselves. I think that's important."

While dandyism remains the purview of the eccentric and eclectic, Callahan is cheered by the observation that more and more, men today do seem to take the time, to put in the effort to dress well, with, perhaps a sense of fashion if not style and taste. There has sprung up in the past few years a whole industry aimed at helping men with fashion, providing them lessons in decorum and etiquette, guiding them toward leading more rounded lives, such as "The Art of Manliness," "Alpha M" and "Real Men, Real Style."

Some of that may be necessary, Callahan said, because the art of gentlemanliness skipped a generation or two, and if there was no father to teach a son these life skills, where will a young man learn it?

"It is possible for a man, even if he's not dressed up like a dandy, to care about those things," Callahan said. "Like a dandy, they want to act in a more gentlemanly way. There's the fashion, but there's also the manners, and that's what the 'Art of Manliless' talks about, being a Renaissance man, taking care of yourself, being a connoisseur and being independent." 

The difference for dandies, of course, is they take all this art of being a gentleman to an extreme. Callahan calls it an obsession.

"Few of the dandies I met call themselves dandies," Callahan said. "To them, dandy means perfection. Beau Brummell, Oscar Wilde, to them, they were the perfect dandies, and they're not there yet. They haven't reached that level of perfection."

There are a lot of misconceptions about dandies, Callahan said, but none of them are true. Perhaps the biggest misconception is that dandies are gay, but that is not usually the case. Most are straight, many are married. They're also not all white, nor are they all rich.

In fact, it's quite possible to be a dandy on a budget. You just have to know where to shop, how to shop, and pay attention to every detail.

"It all depends on how you wear it," Callahan said.

And while most dandies reject seeing themselves as part of a cohort, a clique, a trend, a group of commonality of any kind, they do appreciate the attention Callahan's book is bringing to them. All of the subjects of the book were thrilled to be a part of it, she said, and now when she tours, she meets many more dandies who are excited to go to a public event where they will be appreciated.

"I don't think most people care or realize what an effort dandies put into their appearance when they see them walking down the street," Callahan said. "They might think, 'oh, that's a great look,' but they don't see the details that went into it. These guys care about the details a lot."

While Callahan has no expectation that her book will inspire new dandies, she does hope it serves as one more inspiration for today's men to care more about their overall image and appearance. 

"Not everybody wants to dress like that, but you can look at it and get some inspiration and hopefully take on some of those ideas," she said.

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Eleven people who attended the lecture entered the dandy contest for a chance to win an autographed copy of Callahan's book.

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Here's a video Callahan shared about one of the dandies in her book, Dandy Wellington.

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