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If I told you that once upon a time it was fashionable for men to wear corsets, what would you say? I don’t know about you but my first mental image is that of Frankenfurter from the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

In the 1880’s the fashion subculture known as the Dandy made its resurgence. Originating in the Regency era the dandy — also known as the beau or gallant — was like the male version of the professionally beautiful. Everything they wore was kept up to the peak of fashion and some even wore specially designed corsets or body-belts made for the male physique to smooth the lines of their clothing and keep their bodies in a fashionable shape. These corsets and body-belts were often made of lightweight cotton and laced up the back with buckled straps at the side to prevent any tummy bulges.

King Edward of England was a forerunner of the Dandy subculture, setting great store in the quality and details of dress. He was even known for reprimanding people who dressed inappropriately or in outdated clothing in his presence. Wear diamond combs to dinner instead of a tiara? Collar points not high enough? Better be prepared to be called out by the king.

Edward VII coronation portrait. Replica by Sir (Samuel) Luke Fildes. 1902.

With the king himself at the forefront one could find dandies in all levels of society, even in the highest levels of government.

Another of the time’s best-known dandies was the author Oscar Wilde, self-described “Professor of Aesthetics”. He dressed to the pink of fashion in knee breeches, velvet coats, and wide collars and used his charisma and creative wit to charm his way into the acquaintance of celebrities and anyone associated with them until his plays reached the stage.

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas. Gillman and Co., 1893

Of course then there were those who took dandyism too far. The term ‘fop’ was first coined in the mid-fourteen hundreds and was originally intended to describe a simpleton or fool. The original definition changed over the centuries to be defined as  “one who is foolishly attentive to and vain of his appearance, dress, or manners; a dandy, an exquisite” (according to the Oxford English Dictionary). The fop became a stock character in English literature and satire, the kind of man who is often effeminate and perpetually overdressed. They are known for continual attempts to make themselves sound more witty than they really are for being overtly French in their mode of dress and vocabulary.

As time went on this character trait evolved and both heroic and villainous characters began to use foppish behavior to disguise their true intentions. For a really good example of this kind of character, check out Lord Akeldama in Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series. He’s a really interesting character and has most of society convinced that he is an overdressed, flamboyant airhead when really his legion of hot-boy spies have infiltrated every level of society. Other such characters of note include Sir Percy Blakeney from The Scarlet Pimpernel, Don Diego de la Vega from Zorro, and interestingly enough, the public persona put on by Bruce Wayne.

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight (2008).

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