I intended to include this post in our “bad boys” series, but George “Beau” Brummell really wasn’t bad. In fact, he did a lot of good things — for men’s fashion, for interior décor, and for cleanliness. And he did it all with an amazing amount of style.
Beau Brummell was raised to be a gentleman, even though his father was only a government clerk who became a private secretary to a member of the aristocracy. Young Brummell attended Eton and made many influential friends. Once he arrived in London, his cool impudence made him a favorite in the upper levels of society, and before anyone knew it, he had become the leader of all things fashionable.
In fact, Brummell dictated men’s fashion. He threw off the lush embroidery and fanciful materials of the late 1700s and aimed for a sober but perfect dress. He was the first to wear evening dress of black coat and breeches. He ordered that cravats were only suitable if they were starched. He brought pantaloons (which became trousers) into fashion. The men’s suit today still follows the basic design laid down by the Beau. It was said that the Prince came to his house merely to watch him dress and begged him for advice.
He decreed that simple lines and lack of ostentation should rule inside the home as well. He encouraged the proprietor of White’s to install a bow window so he could sit and watch the ladies go by. I keep imagining him and his cronies using the Olympic style of rating.
“Ah, Lady Bessborough. 9 for execution and 10 for style. That’s 90 points overall. Perhaps I’ll deign to attend her ball next quarter day.”
He also started a craze for bathing. It was rumored that at least one royal duke could only be bathed when he was unconscious because he hated bathing so much. Brummell brought cleanliness and fastidiousness into fashion. And I’m sure a number of people breathed easier because of it!
Unfortunately, the Beau had two major failings: his love of gambling and his lack of skill at it. His mountain of debt forced him to flee for the Continent in 1816 before he could be arrested and thrown into Debtor’s Prison.
So, perhaps he was a bit of a bad boy after all.