This 19th-century London dandy caused a style revolution

Sharp-dressed man Beau Brummell was the sole arbiter of male fashion and invented style rules that men still follow today.

Portrait of Brummell during his London heyday. Color etching based on a miniature.
Photograph by Granger/AurImages

George Bryan “Beau” Brummel, described as the most famous and influential man in early 19th-century London , was the center of a revolution. He sparked change not with rhetoric or military might, but with innovations in masculine sartorial style and manner. Men copied what he wore, his mannerisms, and even his daily grooming routine.

Today he is remembered as the world’s first dandy, but although his name became synonymous with the label, he didn’t inspire its creation. The Oxford English Dictionary, defining the term as one “who studies above everything to dress elegantly and fashionably,” traces its origins to 1780, just two years after Brummell’s birth. Nevertheless, Brummell became a symbol of a new masculine style, one that still dictates the way people dress today. (See also: Marie Antoinette's style revolution.)

Born in London in 1778, Brummell grew up during a revolutionary age in Europe and North America. The French and American Revolutions (1789-1799; 1775-1783) marked the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of the individual. Men’s clothing began to convey these political and economic changes. The 18th-century male style, heavily influenced by French royalty, was elaborate and flamboyant: a rainbow of hues in billowy silk, satin, and velvet fabrics; lace cravats and cuffs; knee-length breeches with stockings; high, powdered white wigs; and makeup. (See also: Vintage photos of royal families from all over the world.)

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