beau brummel

Beau Brummell

[bruhm-uhl]

Beau Brummell, né George Bryan Brummell (7 June 1778, London, England – , Caen, France), was the arbiter of men's fashion in Regency England and a friend of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. He established the mode of men wearing understated, but fitted, beautifully cut clothes, adorned with an elaborately-knotted cravat.

Beau Brummell is credited with introducing and establishing as fashion the modern man's suit, worn with a tie. He claimed to take five hours to dress, and recommended that boots be polished with champagne. His style of dress was known as dandyism.

Biography

George was the son of the private secretary of Lord North. He was fair complexioned, and had "a high nose, which was broken down by a kick from a horse soon after he went into the Tenth Dragoons.... His father died in 1794, leaving him an inheritance of over 20,000 pounds. He was an undergraduate at Oriel College, and later embarked upon a military career, joining the Tenth Light Dragoons. It was during this time he came to the attention of Prince George, the Prince of Wales. Through the influence of the Prince, Brummell had been promoted to captain by 1796. When his regiment was sent from London to Manchester, however, he resigned his commission.

Beau Brummel took a house on Chesterfield Street in Mayfair, and, for a time, avoided extravagance and gaming. He was included in Prince George's circle. Here, he made an impression with his elegant understated manner of dress and clever remarks. His fastidious attention to cleaning his teeth, shaving, and bathing daily became popular.

He was influenced by his wealthy friends as well. He began behaving as though his fortune were as great as theirs, spending and gambling as though he were one of them. This was not a problem while he was under the protection of the Prince of Wales. Brummell, Lord Alvanley, Henry Mildmay and Henry Pierrepoint were considered the prime movers of Watier's, dubbed "the Dandy Club" by Byron. They were also the four hosts of the masquerade ball in July 1813 at which the Prince Regent greeted Alvanley and Pierrepoint, but then "cut" Brummell and Mildmay by snubbing them, staring them in the face but not speaking to them. This provoked Brummell's infamous remark, "Alvanley, who's your fat friend?". This doomed his social standing by removing the Regent's social umbrella that had protected Brummell from his creditors. In 1816, he fled to France to escape social ostracism and the sudden demand for payment in full of thousands of pounds sterling owed. Usually, Brummell's gambling debts, as "debts of honour", were always paid immediately. The one exception to this was the final wager recorded for him in White's betting book. Recorded March, 1815, the debt was marked "not paid, 20th January, 1816".

He lived the remainder of his life in France, acquiring an appointment to the consulate at Caen due to the influence of Lord Alvanley and the Marquess of Worcester. This provided him with a small annuity. He died penniless and insane from syphilis in Caen in 1840.

In popular culture

Brummell appears as a character in Arthur Conan Doyle's 1896 historical novel Rodney Stone. In the novel, the title character's uncle, Charles Tregellis, is the center of the London fashion world, until Brummell ultimately supplants him. Tregellis' subsequent death from mortification serves as a deus ex machina in that it resolves Rodney Stone's family poverty, as his rich uncle bequeaths a sum to his sister.

Brummell's life was later dramatised in

Georgette Heyer, author of a number of Regency romance novels, included Brummell as a character in her 1935 novel Regency Buck.

Watchmaker LeCoultre made a watch named after him during the 1940s and 1950s. It is an extremely simple watch with no numbers and a small modern face.

The Puig Beauty & Fashion Group has a eau de cologne named after Brummel

Brummell's name was adopted by the faux-British Invasion band The Beau Brummels who had top 40 hit records in 1965.

Brummell's name was also used by an English group, Beau Brummell Esquire and His Noble Men, who released at least one single, "I Know, Know, Know" b/w "Shopping Around" (Columbia DB 7447), in 1965. The "A side" song was written by Beau Brummell Esquire; the "B side" song is credited to Tepper-Bennett-Schroeder, a trio of professional song writers who had previously written hits for Cliff Richard.

Brummell is the detective-hero of a series of period mysteries by Rosemary Stevens, including Death on a Silver Tray (2000), The Tainted Snuff Box (2001), The Bloodied Cravat (2002), and Murder in the Pleasure Gardens (2003).

A statue of Brummell by Irena Sedlecka was erected on London's Jermyn Street in 2002.

The Beau Brummel store in New York City's trendy SoHo neighborhood offers a line of traditional menswear, including the eponymous Beau Brummel suit, which Regis Philbin has worn on television in Live with Regis and Kelly and Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Incidental mentions

  • T. S. Eliot mentioned him in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (which Andrew Lloyd Webber later made into the hit Broadway musical Cats) in his poem about Bustopher Jones: "In the whole of St. James's the smartest of names / Is the name of this Brummell of cats."
  • French novelist Honoré de Balzac, in his Traité de la vie élégante (1830s), depicts an aging, wig-wearing and somewhat overweight Brummell discussing fashion and defining the "elegant" lifestyle with the French.
  • In the Three Stooges short film, Punch Drunks, Curly's boss at a restaurant sarcastically greets him with the line, "Hello, Beau Brummell!"
  • He also is affectionately remembered by the orphan Molly in the Broadway musical Annie (1977), wherein she refers to his keen sense of fashion: "Your clothes may be *Beau Brummelly, they stand out a mile ... you're never fully dressed without a smile".
  • From singer-songwriter Billy Joel's Glass Houses album (1980), the listener is told in the hit "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" that "you could really be a Beau Brummell, baby, if you just give it half a chance".
  • Novelist Virginia Woolf gave a talk on Beau Brummel for the BBC on 20 November, 1929.
  • In the television series Doctor Who, a 1984 episode entitled "The Twin Dilemma" featured a recently regenerated Sixth Doctor, who, upon choosing his clothes and being told he "looks dreadful", retorts: "That, my dear, is what they said about Beau Brummell." In the 1964 episode entitled "The Sensorites," the First Doctor, upon being given a cloak to wear, remarks that "Beau Brummell always said I looked better in a cloak."
  • In the television series Blackadder the Third, which is set in Regency England, Blackadder reads aloud newspaper headlines which are written in modern tabloid style, and complains that "The Times has really gone downhill lately". The headlines are "Beau Brummell in purple pants probe" and "King talks to tree - Phew! What a loony" (a reference to George III).
  • In his autobiography, And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since, Charlie Rangel mentions that when his grandfather dressed up he looked like Beau Brummell.
  • In one of the earlier Garfield cartoons, Jon asks Lyman for help deciding which outfit to wear. Lyman enters the panel very flamboyantly dressed, to which Garfield opines; "Beau Brummell lives."
  • In Pamela Aidan's An Assembly Such as This; A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman, the first of a trilogy that focuses on Mr. Darcy's side of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Beau Brummell comments positively on a spectacularly tied knot in Darcy's cravat, which brings Darcy some unwanted attention.
  • In Tom Stoppard's 1993 play Arcadia, Chloë suggests Bernard should attend the garden party dressed as Beau Brummell.

References and footnotes

Further reading

  • Barbey d'Aurevilly, Jules. Of Dandyism and Of George Brummell, 1845
  • Campbell, Kathleen. Beau Brummell. London: Hammond, 1948
  • Jesse, Captain William. The Life of Beau Brummell. London: The Navarre Society Limited, 1927.
  • Kelly, Ian. Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style. Hodder & Stoughton, 2005
  • Lewis, Melville. Beau Brummell: His Life and Letters. New York: Doran, 1925
  • Moers, Ellen. The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm. London: Secker and Warburg, 1960.
  • Nicolay, Claire. Origins and Reception of Regency Dandyism: Brummell to Baudelaire. Ph. D. diss., Loyola U of Chicago, 1998.
  • Wharton, Grace and Philip. Wits and Beaux of Society. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1861.

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