” A person, my dear, will probably come and speak to us; and if he enters into conversation, be careful to give him a favourable impression of you, for,” and she sunk her voice to a whisper, ‘he is the celebrated Mr. Brummell.
Life of Beau Brummell by Captain Jesse

Born on 7 June, 1778, Beau Brummell endures as a style icon, a matchless wit and an enigma. Was Brummell a caring friend, as experienced by Frederica, Duchess of York, or a sarcastic louse, as portrayed in the following passage from The Cornhill Magazine –

“Brummell’s rise to social autocracy is the more astounding that he had no sort of family to boast of, and that in his day the fashionable drawingrooms and clubs were jealously closed to upstarts and parvenus. Making every allowance for matchless assurance and extraordinary opportunities turned to excellent account, there must have been much in a man who not only became the ami intime of the Prince of Wales, but secured the attachment of a host of friends who stood by him staunchly when in extremity of adversity. Thackeray knew the world well, and he was right when he said that the world is really very good-natured. For whatever the qualities of Brummell, he had no heart to recommend him; he had nothing of that genuine touch of nature which wins affection irresistibly, and makes all mankind akin. He was frivolous, selfindulgent, and ostentatiously selfish. He could attach himself to the dogs who were helplessly dependent; he could pet a mouse and make friends with a cockatoo; but he was cursed with the superficial wit which loved to wound, and he seldom missed an opportunity of saying some bitter thing. If the smart rankled, so much the better. He swaggered cruelly on the strength of his social ascendency, though, to do him simple justice, he spared the strong as little as the weak. Perhaps there never was a less lovable character than that of the dandy who luxuriated for years on disinterested charity and never altogether exhausted it, although he offered his benefactors the most irritating provocation.”

Perhaps in the end Brummell was just like the rest of us – a complex person who could be, and was, many things to many people. Certainly, the Duchess of York and her brother-in-law, the Prince of Wales, had different views on him. However, one view that seems to be universal is that Brummell was the quintessential dandy – or was he? William Pitt Lennox declared that it was a libel to call Brummell a “Dandy,” since he differed entirely from all that species. “Of all my acquaintances, he was the quietest, plainest, and most unpretending dresser,” Pitt wrote. “Those who remember him in his palmy days will bear testimony to the truth of this assertion; it was the total absence of all peculiarity, and a rigid adherence to the strictest rules of propriety in costume, which gained for him the homage due to his undisputed taste. He eschewed colours, trinkets, and gew-gaws; his clothes were exquisitely made, and, above all, adapted to his person; he put them on well too, but for all this there was no striving for effect—there was an unusual absence of study in his appearance.”

A favorite parlor game played by myself, Victoria Hinshaw and Jo Manning is not Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit or even the Oijua Board. No, our favorite game, especially when we are with new people whose opinions we haven’t heard before, always begins with the same question, “Beau Brummell: Straight, gay, bisexual or A-sexual?” I promise you, coupled with a few glasses of port, a cozy chair and the right people, this question can keep you entertained for hours. Granted, you have to have a group of people with the same mind set, people who have actually heard of Beau Brummell and who know the facts surrounding him, but this is not as difficult as it might seem. Two centuries after his death Brummell is still being written about, as both fact and fiction, not to mention the many films which have portrayed his fascinating, fashionable and foible filled life.

Whether portrayed by John Barrymore, Stewart Granger or
James Purefoy, the Brummell flair always manages to come through.  

In fact, the Brummell flair is still so powerful, his name still so instantly associated with all things exquisite and fashionable that Brummell, who would be 232 years old today, continues to have his name bandied about in order to sell all manner of goods, including after shave, ties, shirts, suits, watches, razors, early 20th century hand soap dispensers and a Cincinnati office building.

Not to mention a show poodle, which, when you think of it, is infinitely more fitting than a soap dispenser. By the way, there have also been many horses named Beau Brummell – one of them has a race video on YouTube.

No . . .  I’m not kidding.  

I must say I’ve never heard of Brummell’s having been musicially inclined, though I could be wrong.

And how about . . . . . . .
  I’m telling you, I couldn’t make this stuff up . . . . . .
Brummell would be gratified to learn that he can still draw a crowd, as evidenced by this photo of his statue in Jermyn Street.
Brummell was one of the most talked about men of his day and I like to think that, wherever he is now, it amuses him to no end that his name still holds some cachet. And I think it makes him guffaw outright to know that while everyone still recognizes his name – nay uses his name in order to sell all manner of goods – the number of George IV branded items is rather limited. The Duke of York even has more pubs named after him than Prinny does. It’s a shame really – My Fat Friend’s Place would have made a much better name for a restaurant, what?


  1. Acck. It was my blog day today and I could have blogged about Brummell! It is amazing the influence he's had on men's fashions, lasting even into today.

    I LOVED the Ian Kelly biography of Brummell. He made me love Brummell, when other depictions of him were not so flattering.

  2. Dear Diane – Does one need an excuse? By all means, blog about Brummell today or any day.

    Dear Anonymous – I'm a sucker for Brummell bios – I own nine – but, of course, the pentultimate is that by Ian Kelly, referenced here by Diane, which is nothing short of a tour de force of The Beau's life and times. Alas, Captain Jesse has been surplanted for all time. Kelly's bio is wonderfully written, warts and all. I don't mean that the writing is warty, but rather the subject matter. While Kelly's affection for Brummell is evident, he doesn't hesitate to give us the bad and the ugly, as well as the good. What no biographer has been able to give us to date (probably because it doesn't exist) is proof of Brummell's ever having had an intimate, long term relationship with anyone. Julia Johnstone, Harriette Wilson and Byron don't count for mucn more than rumour. Even if Brummell had slept with each of them – once – none of these casual liasons would have served to define his sexuality. Almost every detail of Brummell's life and daily routine were so often commented and remarked upon – not to say written about – that I find it exceedingly odd that there has never been so much as a hint to an honest to God love affair, straight, gay or otherwise. Am I the only one who thinks this odd? I mean, he was the star of his day. He ruled the circle in which he existed. He could have bedded almost anyone he desired. Male or female. And didn't. Oddly enough, the Duke of Wellington – also known as The Beau – could and did carry on well documented flirtations with women throughout England and Europe (definitely straight). Wellington wooed some women, bedded many women and conducted long standing platonic relationships with other women. An obviously well rounded guy when it came to the ladies if you don't count the bizarre relationship he had with is own wife. Brummell's deepest female attachment seems to have been to the Duchess of York, with whom it is doubtful that anyone, including her husband, had a long standing sexual affair. So, to finally answer your question, I always opt for A-sexual. So far, there's no satisfactory proof (to my mind)that Brummell had a deciced preference either way. The bigger question might be why he was so unable to form meaningful relationships.

  3. Fabulous post and very thought-provoking. I too love the Ian Kelly bio as he takes great pains to show as many aspects of the man as possible. I tend to agree with the choice of A-sexual. Unless he had a long-standing relationship with someone in his own household and had the devotion of his servants I doubt he could conduct an affair or any sort. And his inability to form meaningful relationships was directly attributable to his inability to hold his tongue.

  4. Louisa – I'm so glad I wasn't drinking anything when I read the last line of your comment – spot on! Talk about a life spent shooting onself in the foot. He was his own worst enemy. A shame when you consider the "what might have been."

  5. Oooh, Mr. Storey, what big claws you have. And this from the author of A History of Men’s Fashion. Tsk, tsk. You should appreciate what “might have been.” Had Brummell been a tad more circumspect and less loose lipped, as Louisa points out, he might have continued to cultivate friends in high places and curry their favor in ways that would have resulted in his living out his golden years in circumstances a little more . . . well . . . golden. Brummell might also have died with a critique of the wallpaper on his lips, a la Wilde. Or perhaps with a biting remark on the cut of his doctor’s coat. Instead, his room at the Hotel most likely didn’t have wallpaper, tasteful or otherwise. Do you believe that the man who single handedly made such an impact on men’s fashion deserved to be consigned to ruin and die as he did? Of course he brought it all down upon himself – we all know that – but one can only wonder what further fashion innovations and bon mots would have been handed down for posterity had things turned out differently. Or what position Brummell might have achieved at court or in the government had he played his cards right. Just think, he might have had the opportunity to have a proper portrait painted and we would today know what he actually looked like. Although I have to admit, James Purefoy in full kit was Brummellian perfection. On another note, isn’t it strange that the two men who most influenced neckwear had sad ends? I speak, of course, of Brummell and the Duke of Windsor – he who could have been king. Why, Mr. Storey, are you so certain Brummell shouldn’t have been allowed an alternate, more elegant ending?

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