The Chinese Dandy, French Concession

I love dandies, but I don’t like the way Wikipedia describes them. They portray dandies as middle class people who would imitate the upper class because they wanted or longed to be of that status, but that’s not how I interpreted history… I saw dandies as a group that disrupted the traditional model of top-down dissemination of ‘taste’ by dressing better than the aristocracy even though they had fewer resources. This made society question the position aristocracy held in arbitrating tastes and aesthetics, and there was thus a shift of focus from one’s background to one’s own creativity or character to determine if one had style and substance. Dandies helped make fashion more democratic by empowering the everyman to have style and taste, not just the rich and privileged. So basically this proves that taste is more important than money… Take note, Chinese people.

Here’s one guy who already got the memo:

This outfit is inherently “refined” because it’s a suit, but the pattern makes it more relaxed and informal (is this a traditional print from Yunnan?). Also, the short sleeves and no socks help this guy differentiate himself from the masses, but I don’t think he’s really trying to differentiate himself by looking “upper class”… I think he’s just trying to show he is different from other people, but not necessarily better (social stratification is a very primitive use of fashion).

By embracing his differences and displaying them sartorially, he appears to be more open to different ideas and concepts himself, and probably appreciates varied aesthetics. In this way, dandies make society a more open and accepting place for people to wear whatever they want, whatever resonates with an individual. Our tastes and values should not be dictated by an upper class or aristocracy but rather simply by ourselves.

Dandies are thus a force of social integration insofar as they helped demonstrate the potential through true individual style to transcend socioeconomic boundaries that previously differentiated individuals sartorially. Today, everyone is a creator and actively participates in the fashion system, and style is the highest form (conspicuous consumption is one of the lowest forms).

But dandies don’t only represent democracy and social integration in fashion, they also represent the idea of a gentleman: It doesn’t matter how modest a man’s means are as long as the man is honest… Or at least that’s the way they described it to me at the Shang Xia exhibition (post to come soon). They said bamboo represented the Chinese gentleman because it was straight and honest, humble yet strong. To me, this guy epitomizes the Chinese gentleman:

Even though he’s riding a bike he’s still respectfully dressed, but he’s by no means attempting to give off an air of superiority. He is seemingly refined yet humble, individualistic and open. I don’t know if he’s honest, but if his clothes are any indication I would say he looks like a guy you could trust.

I like how soft Chinese gentlemen and dandies come off… I mean, all dandies are a bit lighter in their loafers, but maybe the Chinese dandies are even more so than others because of their inherently androgynous nature… Or maybe it has to do with their socks, which looks more like women’s stockings to Western eyes than socks for gentlemen. But it works for them somehow, so I’ll let it be.

So for all the above, long-winded reasons, I love dandies and am more than happy to see them in China. They have true substance even though they may not have a lot of RMB to throw around on their outfits (they are the antithesis of the nouveau riche)… They are more open than other groups of people to new ideas and new aesthetics, and goodness knows that we need that here on the Mainland. If these Chinese dandies has peaked your interested, check out the ones from the Congo in this WSJ article.

Best Dressed Generation:
Gen X – 90 points + 30 points for being gentlemen = 120 points
Gen Y – 80 points + 20 points for being individualistic = 100 points
Gen Z – 30 points


About chinesepeopledoyoustyle

The emergence of style in China
This entry was posted in Androgynous, Arbitration, Artistic, Best Dressed Generation, Bikes, Chinese People, Conspicuous Consumption, Dandies, Democratization, Domestic Development, Fashion System, Fashion Theory, Gen X, Gen Y, Imitation, Shang Xia, Social Integration, Socks, Stylish, Thesis, Xu Hui District and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Chinese Dandy, French Concession

  1. Pingback: CPHNS and Exception de MixMind 例外 Anniversaries, Part 二 | chinesepeoplehavenostyle

  2. Awesome post! I don’t have an informed comment to make like BedStuy, but I’ve long been fascinated by the Victorian Era dandies and I really enjoyed reading your more in-depth view from the standpoint of a completely different culture. Great stuff!!

    • Thank you very much!! I think dandies are fascinating, and the great thing is that they don’t have to come from wealth and are comfortable not aspiring to be wealthy… They are simply well-dressed men, which proves that one’s style doesn’t depend on their socio-economic background… Virtually anyone can have their own style!

  3. I love love love this article. I have recently indulged into the realm of “Black Dandyism” and it’s connection to today’s society. It is definitely wonderful to see the structure in which the role of the gentleman and dandyism play in China. In any rate, the character or image of a Dandy is truly an aspect of “performance” that then becomes integrated into the individuals style. Yes, Wikipedia does sensationalize the idea of the Dandy as a prime example of the relationship between clothing and social mobility but the performance aspect may be what Wikipedia wanted to allude too. Who knows!

    • Thank you very much for your comment!! I completely agree that performance is a huge part of sartorial culture, if not the most important. The main issue I have with Wikipedia’s definition is summarized in the below quotation:

      “The linkage of clothing with political protest had become a particularly English characteristic during the 18th century.[7] Given these connotations, dandyism can be seen as a political protestation against the rise of levelling egalitarian principles, often including nostalgic adherence to feudal or pre-industrial values, such as the ideals of “the perfect gentleman” or “the autonomous aristocrat”, though paradoxically, the dandy required an audience, as Susann Schmid observed in examining the “successfully marketed lives” of Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron, who exemplify the dandy’s roles in the public sphere, both as writers and as personae providing sources of gossip and scandal.[8]”

      I think dandies weren’t about upholding feudalism and aristocracy, they are more about breaking down this top-down dissemination of “taste”… They demonstrated that even people that weren’t of this background could be stylish, and in this way empowered the every man to be stylish, not just the upper class. That’s why I like dandies 🙂

      Happy reading!

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