Born in London on 7th June 1778, Mr. George Bryan ‘Beau’ Brummell was one of Britain’s first male fashion icons.
During his lifetime in Regency England, his attention to detail and a desire to experiment with clothing paved the way for a new direction in popular menswear.
Though Mr. Brummell was not from aristocracy (despite being close friends with the Prince Regent), he was perhaps one of the first people in history to become famous purely on his aesthetic appearance, rather than by title, craft or heroism. Brummell would become one of the architects of what would be known as ‘Dandyism’.
His mark on fashion cannot be understated however, for the next time you dress yourself in a suit and tie you actually have Mr. Brummell to thank. He is said to have originated the very basic foundations of the modern two piece suit, moving away from the frivolous over the top fashion of the day, embracing a more minimalist look, with perfectly tailored shirts, cravats, jackets and full length trousers. No more breeches and stockings gentleman – thank heavens above!
Incidentally, the cravat was a forerunner to the modern tie, originating from French military wear for Croatian mercenaries. Cravat having come from the French word cravaté, which translates to Croate.
Croatia actually holds a special Cravat day on 18th October each year.
The cravat made its way to England in 1660 following the return of Charles II from exile, bringing with him the latest fashionable items from Europe.
Back to Mr. Brummell who was also fastidious with his grooming habits. Many say it took him 5 hours a day to wash and dress. Regardless of the length of time he took, his influence quickly spread, leading to a significant increase in male personal hygiene at the time.
His personal recommendation for cleaning shoes was something of a peculiarity however, suggesting Champagne as the best polish to bring up a shine (how very decadent). Purely in the interests of research I decided to give it a go one day (making sure not to waste too much of course). Unfortunately gentleman, I must report that this is a red herring and believe Mr. Brummell is no doubt having a good chuckle to himself somewhere at anyone poor fool giving it a go.
Sadly Mr. Brummell’s life ended in a manner far removed from the way in which he lived. Having fallen into debt from gambling and out of favour by society he escaped to France where his past eventually caught up with him. He died in poverty of syphilis in an asylum near Caen on 30th March 1840 and is buried in a cemetery nearby.
His story did not end at the age of 61 as his name will forever be linked with the roots of British fashion.
It’s somewhat ironic that a man who rose to fame purely on his appearance should continue to be remembered well over a century later. In 2002 a statue was unveiled in his honour by Princess Michael of Kent in Jermyn Street – the legendary home of British shirt makers.
There’s much more to Mr. Brummell’s life of course, but to me I believe him to be a shining example that in life anything is possible regardless of your background or profession. Next time you find yourself in Jermyn Street be sure to tip your hat to him.
“To be truly elegant one should not be noticed.” Mr. George Bryan ‘Beau’ Brummell