The Meaning of Dandy

Doran the Dandy, San Francisco, May 2009

I thought I knew what a dandy was.

I knew of the historical figures from England, and I could see that there were modern day men who were part of this style lineage.   Of course once I actually started meeting more dandies I realized that there really was no easy definition.  Each man has been unique.  When I talked about my project, many people had no idea what a dandy was.  This was hard for me to fathom, but it got me thinking...For better or worse I will need to define "dandy" for this project.  

American Dandy.  Kind of.  Since I am based in New York, I have primarily photographed men in the US, but have also traveled to London to photograph The Chaps.  More on that later.  I do not want to limit my project to America, though, because there are a few men on my dandy wish list that are abroad.  In Africa there are the Sapeurs, which have been covered by at least three photographers.  The best being Hector Mediavilla, who did not get the book.

Style.  I like the dictionary definition to start: "A man who effects extreme elegance in clothes and manners."  But my observation is that it's not just any clothes - it is most always inspired by traditional menswear.  Suits, ties, cufflinks, cravats, hats, pocket squares, canes, dress shoes, waistcoats.  Some who can afford it would have bespoke clothing, but more often it is vintage or new items curated with extreme elegance - sometimes understated, and sometimes with great eccentricity.  But somehow it is not just about style...

Manner.  By this I do not mean that all dandies have good manners.  Rather, there is a part of dandyism that is in the way one lives their life.   This separates the dandies from the men who merely clean up well on the weekend or at weddings.  There is a self awareness that is actually very endearing to me.  I think the dandy sees his life as a work of art, and he does not mind being on display.  

Compulsion.  A dandy cannot help being a dandy.   This I like the best.  

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