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