With a turned leg, a pair of trousers displays the athletic curves of a calf. The garment, a tribute to fine tailoring, was constructed from broadcloth, a rich fabric that retains its shape despite its age. Though sedate and small, this pair of trousers defines the dandy at Artist/Rebel/Dandy at the RISD Museum.
An initial, towering image of George “Beau” Brummell reminds visitors of his unforgettable presence in the 1800s. Brummell, with both a tall stature and the grandest of personalities, rose through social ranks with the help of daring, innovative fashions, and his tenuous standing within society was founded on fashion’s vacillating fascination with novelty and singularity. Though his life was both recorded and ridiculed by his contemporaries, Brummell’s highly constructed image became the foundation for all men seeking sartorial individuality and expression.
Brummell’s impact on fashionable society is best understood while reading the critiques of those outside his social circle. Many portrayed Brummell and other dandies as effeminate and foppish, but critics were clearly fascinated by their looks and lifestyle. The words of these critics share exhibit space with the words and effects of notable dandies including Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Andy Warhol, and Max Beerbohm. As with Brummell, critics admired and chided these men for their attentiveness to dress and their uninhibited lifestyles; lifestyles that occasionally led to exile and penury.
Amidst the stripes and checks and the names of famous designers, the exhibit unfolds not chronologically but thematically, while exploring various interpretations of dandyism through the 19th century to the present day. Punk jerseys are in proximity to letterman jackets, while Fred Astaire’s white bow tie is only yards from recent works of Sruli Recht. This collection of suiting and accessories exemplifies the romanticism, the historicism, and the impetuous innovation of dandies throughout time. Artist/Rebel/Dandy affirms the admirable role of creatives who continue to secure a place for individual expression within menswear.
“Dandyism isn’t image encrusted with flowers. It’s a way of stripping yourself down to your true self. You can only judge the style by the content and you can only reach the content through the style.”
– Sebastian Horsley
So rarely do we see an exhibit devoted to the development of menswear, one that so thoughtfully presents each collar, button, and the magnetic personalities that carefully chose them. Artist/Rebel/Dandy is on view in the Chace Center Galleries at the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design until August 18, 2013.
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