Dandyism: Oscar Wilde's Revenge

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Luxury streetwear is evolving like hip-hop in the '90s, and we're about to hit the coffee-table illbient part. Not that DJ Spooky is rolling out a line of well-researched tall tees, but there's a revived term floating around that I'm sure he'd love to give a lecture on: dandyism. Or rather new dandyism, as Chris Torres, Reebok sneaker designer and creator of the blog NewDandyism, puts it. According to Torres, "Street couture [is] a false label geared towards getting money out of kids' pockets–true luxury is about quality, not exclusivity." Fair enough. But since when can you pay to become a dandy?

The definition of a dandy usually begins with Oscar Wilde and Beau Brummell–rebel figures from the 1800s who revolutionized men's clothing by being complete fucking dicks. Brummell is most famous for saying, "Who's your fat friend?" to King George IV (then just a lowly prince, tee hee!); Wilde was a jack-of-all-trades author, style maven, and sexual crusader. Since their deaths, both men have been endlessly imitated; their most famous quotes tattooed on art students' knuckles, their likenesses portrayed in Lifetime movie specials where people say shit like "incorrigible."

Whatever a dandy is today is far less straightforward, although the definition I prefer comes from GQ Style Guy and NYC punk icon Glenn O'Brien. In his words, "A dandy in the truest sense... is a philosopher who uses style to express himself, to bring about political and social change. A dandy is not a fop, but an artist of living."

I wonder if O'Brien ever expected "artists of living" to become a viable marketing demographic? Considering it doesn't take much to be an artist these days, becoming a dandy has become kind of easy. Momus, a musician, writer, and real-life dandy who wears stuff most "new" dandies wouldn't be caught dead in, once said, "In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 people," and as it turns out, he was right: Technically speaking, practically anyone with a MySpace blog is an artist of living–they get more kudos than I've gotten in three years of writing.

"NewDandyism is a brand," says Torres. "It's a lifestyle and a point of view. Dandyism resonates with young men today because there has been a reemergence of this attitude... The term was picked to market to men that are looking for alternatives, not just the stuff you see on the blogs and streetwear sites."

However, not all of Torres' contemporaries agree with all the coffee-table intellectualism. "This whole dandyism/streetwear thing... that's some goofy shit right there," says Bob Kronbauer, designer of the infamous Crownfarmer clothing line. "With most clothing concepts there's something that the designers draw on, be it 'Dandyism' or whatever. Consumers don't need to be so close to it, though; that's what I think is so weird about this."

Kronbauer is right–this new-dandyism thing is some goofy shit. Lifting the proverbial curtain on street couture isn't too different from DJ Spooky's table-of-contents musical theoreticisms: The content feels more like a better-dressed hustle than real enlightenment. But if mock intellectuals are what we need to rid the world of pajama-top hoodies and 10-block lines outside of Supreme, then so be it. I just hope we don't confuse new dandies with the real thing–I've already had all the illbient I can take.