Monday, 8 November 2010

Horsley on dandyism

An astute comment from a reader on a previous post here at the Chronicles got Lord Bassington-Bassington thinking more about dandyism.

More precisely, on the enormous difference between the dandy as envisioned by brand-obsessed fashion victims and the vision of that arch-dandy Sebastian Horsley, whom His Lordship had the pleasure of seeing in action when he (Mr. Horsley, that is, not His Lordship) introduced Current 93's concert in London this summer.

These passages are culled from Mr. Horsley's autobiography, Dandy in the Underworld, one of the most interesting autobiographies His Lordship can recall reading. It is essential material for anyone with the slightest interest in dandyism. And anyone else for that matter. For how can anyone resist a chapter with a title like "Mein Camp?"

Mr Brummell was the original and most celebrated dandy but he was no hero of mine. He was so refined that I do not regard him as a dandy at all. I am more concerned with style than breeding. And the key is to dress in such as style that you would attract attention at a Liberace concert.

When it comes to dress, it takes a strong man to be an extrovert. A true dandy needs complete conviction that he is right; the views of the rest of the world simply don’t matter. ’If someone looks at you, you are not well dressed,’ Mr Brummell tells us. But then Mr Brummel would say that; prissily precise, he was essentially a conformist. True dandyism is rebellious. The real dandy wants to make people look, be shocked by, and even a little scared by the subversion which his clothes stand for.

And yet, dandyism is social, human and intellectual. It is not a suit of clothes walking about by itself. Clothes are merely a part – they may even be the least important part of the personality of the dandy. Dandyism isn’t image encrusted with flourishes. It’s a way of stripping yourself to your true self. You can only judge the style by the content and you can only reach the content through the style.

Being a dandy is a condition rather than a profession. It is a defence against suffering and a celebration of life. It is not fashion, it is not wealth, it is not beauty. It is a shield and a sword and a crown – all pulled out of the dressing up box in the attic of the imagination. Dandyism is a lie which reveals the truth and the truth is that we are who we pretend to be.

Rest in peace, Mr. Horsley. It feels good to know that you suceeded in defining dandyism to such a degree that there's little point in us lesser mortals even trying.


  1. Oh Jesus, even after death Horsley continues to bore.

  2. I don't get it, I don't think he's boring. But then I've only read his autobiography, I don't know his other work at all.