Dandies were nineteenth-century men famous for their appearance, often for little else. Nevertheless, their dress and their clever statements set them at the center of fashionable society, which continued to be fascinated with the figure they cut long after their deaths.
As one might expect there were two schools of thought on what constituted a proper dandy: the English and the French. Beau Brummell, the most renown English dandy of the nineteenth century, set the standard that ultimately carried public opinion: namely, that a dandy should not be dressed ostentatiously in bright colors so that he draws the attention of all others to himself; rather he should exercise rigorous restraint in his dress. The dandy does not flaunt his individuality by wearing shocking combinations of clothes; instead he obeys the conventions of formal attire so scrupulously that he becomes noticeable because he is so perfectly an embodiment of “proper” attire. At the beginning of the century, French dandies still liked to wear suits in bright colors; the English wore only black, brown, or gray, depending on the time of day. Eventually, black became the color for male respectability, and it was the dandy who showed how the lack of ostentation could become its own distinction.
In this famous essay, Baudelaire sanctifies the dandy as the last hero of modern life, a man who tries valiantly to preserve an aristocratic rule of conformity in the face of rampant consumerism. While the middle classes were eagerly imitating the latest fad in dress, Baudelaire's dandy imposes an iron consistency to his own appearance. Understatement becomes the dandy's signature. The more garish others may dress, the more stalwart he avoids any sign of sartorial excess. Baudelaire's string of associations in this essay was prescient. By comparing the dandy to the medieval, middle-eastern cult of the Assasins, he draws the kind of analogy that modern French gangster movies repeatedly reinforce. The man in the sharp suit is like the lone samurai, struggling to live by an ancient code that has been forgotten by all but a handful. The severe lines of the man's suit stand as bulwark against