10 Writers Who Moonlighted as Dandies

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Dandyism is more than just a dress code. A dandy believes that, through a refined command of dress and manners, he or she can impress their greatness upon the world. This meant that a dandy could live a rather indolent, carefree lifestyle and still be regarded as influential and powerful despite not being born into wealth. It makes sense that so many writers were of the dandy sort, given the meager income their career path promised. This pursuit of elegance gave them access to bon vivance in Paris, lifestyles of jet-setting between the Swiss Alps and the Riviera, summers in coastal cottages, or early retirement (before retirement was even deemed acceptable). Dandyism is a interplay between fashion and mannerism, a perfect blend of style, sophistication, and caprice. Here we take a look at 10 authors who successfully made elegance, not just writing, an esteemed profession.

Sebastian Horsley

“Being well-dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquility which psychoanalysis is powerless to bestow.” Sebastian Horsley lent modern-day dandyism a nefarious edge, painting himself as a misogynist, a sexual deviant, and a narcissist before dying of a heroin overdose just before his 48th birthday. The infamously debauched writer claims to have spent equal amounts of money on each of his addictions: drugs, prostitutes, and tailored clothing. He managed to eke out a controversial memoir, Dandy in the Underworld, before dying of a heroin overdose just before his 48th birthday.

Truman Capote

“I want to still be me when I wake up one fine morning and have breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Truman Capote is well renowned for his sparkling wit and dazzling presence at high society functions. To celebrate the success of his novel In Cold Blood, Capote threw a masked ball at New York’s Plaza Hotel, which would go down in history as the “Party of the Century.” Our hats go off to a social celebrity who found his place among the upper crust while touting his upbringing as a lonely Southern boy.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

“He wanted not association with glittering things and glittering people — he wanted the glittering things themselves.” Undeniably the most fashion-conscious male writer of the early 20th century, Fitzgerald was consistently photographed in Gatsby-esque attire: double-breasted Chesterfield topcoats, regimental striped ties, brown and white spectator shoes. His interest in fashion’s influence, particularly upon class and gender identity, is also evident in his work. Despite his impoverished upbringing, Fitzgerald put himself through Princeton before centering himself in the ex-pat community of flappers and swingers in bohemian Paris.

Oscar Wilde

“One should either be a work of art, or wear one.” No list of dandies could exist without the infamous Mr. Wilde. His aplomb first earned him a reputation at Oxford, where he wore his hair long and decorated his rooms with peacock feathers. A true society man, he exuded flair in everything he did, from his socializing to his work, and became an indispensable part of the literary world, feted at the most fashionable salons in cities across Europe and North America.

Marguerite Antonia Radclyffe-Hall

© National Portrait Gallery, London

“You’re neither unnatural, nor abominable, nor mad; you’re as much a part of what people call nature as anyone else; only you’re unexplained as yet — you’ve not got your niche in creation.” Always marching to the beat of her own drum, author and poet Radclyffe Hall was a willful dandy. She confronted gender codes with her dapper, androgynous style and refused to be anything but brazen about her sexuality. As the heiress to $10 million dollars at the age of 21, Hall spent her life bandying about Europe, indulging in wild, often unrequited affairs, and writing highly controversial works of literature.

Charles Baudelaire

“Style is character.” One of the major innovators in French literature, Baudelaire was thought, even in his boarding school beginnings, to be much more refined and distinguished than his fellow pupils. He also had tendencies toward idleness, which, combined with impeccable dress, is the calling card of a true dandy. Squandering every inheritance that came his way, he asserted that art should be responsible for capturing the fleeting, ephemeral experience of life.

Evelyn Waugh

“Manners are especially the need of the plain. The pretty can get away with anything.” British author Evelyn Waugh was known primarily for his satirical novels depicting grandiose visions of the English aristocracy, such as A Handful of Dust. He deplored his classmates at Oxford for their lack of sophistication and went on to travel widely in the 1930s, becoming a well-known figure in aristocratic and fashionable circles. Waugh spent much time vacationing in Somerset, sporting exaggerated Edwardian suits, often made of large-print checkered cloths.

Vita Sackville-West

“Travel is the most private of pleasures. There is no greater bore than the travel bore. We do not in the least want to hear what he has seen in Hong-Kong.” Part of the infamous Bloomsbury Group of writers and artists, Vita was known for her aristocratic ostentation and her passionate same-sex affairs. She had a highly publicized affair with Virginia Woolf, who then wrote Orlando based loosely on her relationship with Vita. Woolf referred to the character of Orlando as: “Vita, only with a change about from one sex to the other.” If you’d like to read more about Bloomsbury’s saphhic triangles, we suggest you read Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers by Michael Holroyd.

W.E.B. Dubois

“A classic is a book that doesn’t have to be written again.” A precocious intellectual, W.E.B. DuBois managed the Glee Club during his college years and was the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. An erudite dandy, he was put off by drinking, promiscuity, and rude behavior of his classmates and instead pursued a rigorous course of academia that led him to become one of the most prominent intellectuals and social activists in the first half of the 20th century. Always smartly dressed, DuBois proved that a stately and respectable scholar can exemplify dandyism as well as any ne’er do well bachelor.

Henry James

“Money’s a horrid thing to follow, but a charming thing to meet.” Born in New York, Henry James spent the middle of the 19th century traveling back and forth between Europe and America. His efforts to establish himself in high society were futile until he moved to London in 1876 and his first novels were published. It wasn’t until some years later and much revamping of wardrobe and manner, that he finally secured himself a position in the elite and fashionable circles, much like his heroine, Isabel Archer, did for herself in Portrait of a Lady. No one ever said being dandy was easy.