A fascinating essay on this peculiar phenomenon, tracing its origins from the English Regency era, when Beau Brumell set the pace for all of high society, despite his non-aristocratic origins, through the adoption of dandyism by the French, not least by Charles Baudelaire, on to the new twists put on it by Romantics like Byron and self-promoters like Oscar Wilde, or, in our day, Tom Wolfe.
One fascinating piece of information imparted by the essay is that Beau Brummell, contrary to stereotype, did not achieve his effects by engaging in gaudy excesses, but rather the opposite: in an age when vulgar showiness was the norm, Brumell stood out by his restrained manner of dressing, his emphasis on understated but high quality materials, his awareness of the importance of a good fit, and, most importantly, his scrupulously high standards of personal hygiene, which were so far above the ordinary for his day that they enabled him to do without the use of perfume with no fear of personal embarrassment. We owe Brummell a rather greater debt than we realize when we use the term "dandy" with disdain.
The article distinguishes between three types of dandy, the "classical", the "romantic", and the "sportive", and its description of the first type is one which I think still defines the well-dressed man down to our day:
... the classical, rigorously applies a more or less Brummelian concept of masculine form to his daily dress. He does not copy Brummel or the fashions of his day, rather he applies those original rules to modern dress. The navy double-breasted jacket with brass buttons worn with khaki trousers, popular among country club types, is a direct descendent from Brummel’s blue clawhammer coat and tight tan breeches. Like the sonnet or this haiku, the classical is perhaps the most refined form of the dandy, because, like the poet utilizing those forms, the dandy must succeed within a limited framework. Details are the classical dandy’s aesthetic toys. The precise cut of a coat, the colour and fold of a pocket square, the tilt of a hat; these are the vehicles by which he sends his message.
A decent blazer, pressed khaki trousers and well-polished leather shoes are almost never out of place even in these informal times - the glory of this ensemble is that one has to put so little thought into getting it right.
Finally, let me leave you with the following words from the closing of the essay:
The question, “What are you trying to prove by wearing that?” is meaningless to the dandy. How the articles in themselves are worn is an end in itself. The medium is the message. L’art pour l’art. In this sense the dandy becomes an artist in cloth. He may not make his clothes, but he wears them well. Furthermore, the modern dandy knows no bounds but those of good taste. He may go from a Dunhill to a Salvation Army store without a blink, for either shop might yield that perfect item he seeks. Lastly the dandy is never a fashion victim because fashion is for people without style.
I think that last sentence is God's own truth: there is something deeply wrong with any man who feels a need to chase after the latest fashion trends, rather than contenting himself with assembling a wardrobe that is of a timeless character, even if it isn't seen as cutting edge by the trendy set. What's wrong with quiet good taste?