Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Fine and Dandy

Museum exhibitions like RISD's (see our previous posting if you don't know WHAT we're talking about) take soooo much time to put together. Imagine ferreting out who might have a Fred Astaire suit or a King George IV robe, or a shirt known to have been worn by Oscar Wilde shortly before his death. Imagine the correspondence that has to go back and forth - when it will be lent, how it will travel, what standards must be met, will there be tit for tat - our Harris tweed suit in your next exhibition in return for your painting in our next exhibition, etc. We got to wondering if any notables had to be excluded because clothes could not be tracked down, or not enough was known about the person, or permissions were not granted...

Then we focused on the luminaries we would have wanted to see. So here is our own little e-show of some dandy gents and cross-dressing dames who didn't make it into the RISD exhibition.

Author George Sand (Amantine Dupin, Baroness Dudevant) was known to dress in men's clothes. (We can't find a date for this drawing, so we're not sure if it depicts her accurately.)

Author Colette also wore men's wear.

Author Vita Sackville-West, who was about six feet tall, was said to have worn men's military uniforms and passed as a man while conducting her affair with Violet Trefusis.

Georgia O'Keeffe always dressed in a very tailored, almost austere manner, so it is unsurprising that she also gravitated toward men's wear.

Bianca Jagger wore beautifully crafted suits by renowned men's Savile Row tailor Tommy Nutter. (Full disclosure: We can't be sure whether the two suits below are in fact Nutter suits.)

And isn't that Tatum O'Neal in the black derby?

Marlene Dietrich showed 'em all how it was done. To complete the androgynous look, the beret obscures the length of her hair, and she wears a man's tie.

And of course, no one wore a tuxedo better than Dietrich.  Don't overlook the white tie, pocket hankie, top hat, patent leather flats - and is that a little cufflink peering out from under her jacket sleeve? And for the final touch of masculinity, a cocked eyebrow, a cigarette and a wisp of smoke.  (Remember - women smoking in public was frowned upon back then.)

Frank Sinatra was always well turned out, from his hat to his socks.

Although it's not necessarily fair to include rock stars, since outrageous costumes are often part of their public persona and not necessarily in synch with their private lives, many are peacocks in both of their worlds.  Case in point, Mick Jagger cut quite the figure in his dapper interpretations of street wear.  First, Mick appears in velvet jacket, long scarf and frilled cuffs, looking very '60s Carnaby Street, with then-girlfriend singer Marianne Faithfull on his arm.

Next, again with Faithfull by his side, Jagger poses in an outrageous checked suit -- and white belt -- and somehow makes it all look so cool. Women of a certain age will remember wearing HUGE checks and houndstooths back then.  And we all wore the big thick chunky belts.

The IFs always admire a man who wears a hat with attitude - just because he likes it, and not because he's covering anything up. And ah, yes, the dark jacket with bright contrasting stripes!

The Kinks' Ray Davies was a proper dandy in his heyday.  He shares the same sense of whimsy as many of the RISD selectees.

He too wore hats with a casual aplomb.

David Bowie was just about impossible to separate from his always impeccably or outrageously dressed persona, but we thought it would be fun to include this one of DB eating in the dining care of a train in full gear from the glam rock period.

We just had to reference one of RISD's best known graduates, David Byrne, shown here in his immaculate larger than life Big White Suit.

The test of the dyed-in-the-wool dandy is to see if he gives up his ways when he's no longer a Sweet Young Thing. David passes the test. (Photo from Magnet magazine)

David REALLY passes the test. We found this photo on a blog called Nag on the Lake, who rightly declared that if Byrne can wear a tutu, he must be "very emotionally secure".

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We can't close without mentioning Shail Upadhya, who we are sad to say passed away earlier this year. Here he is in a photograph we took of him last September at Lincoln Center during Fashion Week. Look how the @ symbol on his lapel crosses over perfectly to the body of the suit. THAT's how well tailored his clothes were.

If you'd like to read more about Mr. Upadhya, a native of Nepal who began to wear suits of his own design after retiring from a career with the United Nations, read Indra's Corner, here.

For a stunning slide show of Shail Upadhya suits from Forbes magazine, click here.

And what dandy would you have nominated for the show?  Do tell.

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First little bonus

More from Ray Davies. Here's a great YouTube by hawkmoon0311195 featuring Dedicated Follower of Fashion (great Kinks hit, and perfect with our dandies theme) and a slide show of dedicated English followers of fashion from previous centuries. (HINT: for both of these, hit the YouTube button in the video's bottom right corner for a better view.)

Second little bonus

Having shown you the creme de la creme of arm-ed and leg-ged dandies, we thought we'd also show you the creme de la creme of wing-ed dandies: the birds of paradise. Did you think there was only one variety? No, there are several, all chillin' in New Guinea, and each one more mind-boggling than the next. The video is five minutes long. There are two guys in jeans and tee shirts. Don't watch them, even though they did all the hard work. Watch the BIRDS!!! This video was produced by the amazing Cornell Ornithology Lab, and sent to us by JODEL.


  1. Surely we have to add Katherine Hepburn.

  2. Shail Upadhya was a bird of paradise in his unique sartorial splendour - I first saw him in the Bill Cunningham documentary and his suits just floored me. I just adore David Byrne, in a big suit, or a tutu. BTW - the formatting of the Vita Sackville West caption needs a bit of tweaking as part of the caption runs up the right hand side of the photo. I've done that before too ;)