The words ‘dandy’ and ‘dandyism’ were first used to describe a man who loved fashion and was particularly interested in his physical appearance. Dandies became common at the end of the 18th century in Britain and continued into the 19th century when they arrived in France too. Like Oscar Wilde, a typical dandy, they enjoyed a luxurious life, had very refined manners and were always dressed in the most fashionable, extravagant clothes. Nowadays it is common for men to be interested in their appearance but, in Wilde’s time, male vanity and an obsession for appearance and beauty was unusual. Dandyism became so important that some people compared it to a religion rather than an interest in fashion.

Original dandies wore lots of velvet, jewellery and lace. Their clothes were colourful and often completely impractical. One famous English dandy, George Brummel, apparently took five hours to get dressed every day. Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray is a typical Dandy; his only interest is in his own appearance and the beauty of those around him. His only desire is to remain in a state of perfect beauty. Even in his comic plays, like The Importance of Being Earnest, the dandy is always an important character.

 

Illustration by ​Anna + Elena Balbusso, taken from ​The Picture of Dorian Gray, by ​Oscar Wilde​, Reading&Training, Step Five (CEFR B2.1).