How Beau Brummell Invented Modern Men’s Style

How a 18-19th century dandy singlehandedly created men’s style and fashion as we know it

Entire books have been filled with images and stories of style icons. There are hundreds. Men like Cary Grant, Steve McQueen, Alain Delon, JFK, Gianni Agnelli, Fred Astaire. This doesn’t even take into account the many style icons living today. Gentleman like Hugo Jacomet, Alan Flusser, G. Bruce Boyer, Sven Raphael Schneider or the thousands who flock to Pitti Uomo each year.

But there is one man who stands alone as the forefather of men’s style. The father of dandyism. The man who introduced the suit and tie. That man is none other than George Bryan Brummell, better known as Beau Brummell.

beau brummell fashion

A gentleman of meager means, Brummell broke down the wall that separated average men like him and the aristocrats of England. Although he didn’t have the finances, it didn’t stop him from behaving as though he was as wealthy as those he surrounded himself with. Brummell didn’t just break the rules. He recreated them.

For the first time, a common man was able to infiltrate the kingdom’s hallowed walls. He developed a close relationship with the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. Unwilling to conform to the guidelines of civilized behavior in the Regency, Brummell instead inspired the future King and those who followed him, through his eccentric behavior and style.

He not only admonished the use of embellished garments and sparkling jewels as part of a gentleman’s attire. He went against the style. Since Brummell didn’t have significant wealth, he couldn’t afford the same apparel worn by the Prince or his other acquaintances. Many believe this is what inspired Brummell to look at better fitting clothing instead of the ornate garments worn by friends.

Brummell introduced the suit. Exceptionally well-fitting and hand-tailored bespoke suits, to be precise. He rejected the use of breeches and stockings and instead introduced full-length formal trousers with both matching and contrasting jackets.

He avoided the billowy and decorated tunics of the past and wore a more contemporary dress shirt, tailored for his body and accessorized by a cravat which he spent his free time developing intricate and elaborate knots for.

This was the birth of men’s style as we know it today. A focus on tailored menswear that flattered the body and showcased a man’s physique, rather than overshadowing it.

beau brummell fashion

Like any man who spends more than he can afford, Brummell rapidly went into debt. After his debt grew considerably, and to avoid prison, Brummell left England for France where he lived in exile until he was caught and forced into debtors prison. Then, in 1840, Brummell passed away without a penny to his name at Le Bon Sauveur Asylum where he was being held for insanity caused by syphilis. He was just 61 years old.

In his short life, Brummell managed not only to influence current fashion, but he earmarked a place in the history books and is today, still known as one of the world’s most stylish men. One might say that it is thanks to him that we no longer favor the use of ornate costumes and instead have far more elegant and simple attire.

So, what, if anything can we take away from Beau Brummell’s fashion sense?

Well, we have arguably adopted quite a bit. But perhaps there are a few things we can still learn from Brummell. Here are five:

1. Consider the cravat.

Most men today wear standard long neckties or bow ties. Few wear cravats. However, the cravat is an ideal way of taking an otherwise formal outfit and adding a touch of sprezzatura to it. Your favorite suit can easily become a more casual, yet sophisticated, garment by substituting a cravat for the tie.

beau brummell fashion

2. Try a new knot.

The four-in-hand, windsor, oriental, et al. These are all knots that everyone knows. While I don’t necessarily advocate the use of an Eldredge, there are still knots worth trying like the double four-in-hand which will separate you from the pack.

3. Ensure your clothes fit.

The number one rule when buying off the rack is to remember that your next stop should be the tailors. The fact is that no article of clothing will fit you perfectly off the rack. Therefore, it’s vital that you visit a reputable alterations tailor to at least have them give it the once-over. Make sure your clothes fit. Before you wear them.

4. Consider investment pieces.

Rather than look for sales, search for investment pieces. If you spend $200 on a cheap suit from the department store, chances are you’ll spend three times that amount replacing and repairing it. It likely won’t fit well and will show its lack of quality rather quickly.

Instead, consider vintage pieces you can find on websites like eBay and in vintage stores. Often you can find a jacket or suit that will last your lifetime for a fraction of the price you’ll spend on a lower quality item. It’s not unusual to find jackets on eBay’s UK site from Ralph Lauren Purple Label, Brioni, Chester Barrie, Hardy Amies, Gieves & Hawkes, and other well-known menswear lines for the same price you might spend on a suit at Men’s Wearhouse.

5. Take care of your wardrobe.

It’s a well-known fact that Beau Brummell spent five hours a day getting ready and polished his shoes with champagne. The key to a great wardrobe is maintaining it. Provided you’re investing in quality menswear and caring for it; you’ll likely never have to worry about replacing items as they wear out. You don’t have to spend five hours a day doing it, but a few minutes before you get dressed and at the end of the day can mean the difference between adding to your wardrobe and replacing it.

Thanks for reading.

Stylishly Yours,

J.A. Shapira
He Spoke Style

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Chime In

  • http://www.vipbachelorclub.com W. ADAM MANDELBAUM

    Another lesson from the Beau’s life: don’t refer to the king as a “fat friend.”

    • derekwashington

      Lol exactly

  • Gregor49

    A good concise history. And, five useful suggestions. This article ought to inspire. I especially liked the segue from cravat to ascot. I am intrigued by the ascot, my wife is more aghast, (she always comes round though and eventually embraces my style ideology, so I’m not too worried) so I read your earlier posts on the ascot. I am a habitual wearer of the scarf so the ascot seems a natural lateral move. I agree, you must own this look, but its subtle texture and color add immensely. In “Neckwear Alternatives: Consider the Ascot”, are you wearing one of silk, cotton, linen? How often do you wear an ascot?

  • derekwashington

    Great post