In Mayfair, a stone's throw away from Piccadilly Circus, the Beau Brummell Statue gazes into Piccadilly Arcade, one hand on its hip, the other clutching a top hat and cane.
Who was Beau Brummell?
Brummell was an arbiter of fashion, a man of style whose bold personality refused to be ignored. And ignored he wasn't.
He was born, in 1778, into a middle class family with dreams of joining the social elite. From a young age, they taught him how to walk, talk and act like a gentleman. Little did they know, however, that in a matter of decades young Beau would go on to redefine just what exactly a gentleman was.
Beau The Scholar...
He studied at Eton College where an eye for fashion quickly became apparent. It didn't take him long to transform the Eton boy's traditional white stocking with a golden buckle. After graduating, he had a similar effect on the dress sense of his Oxford Uni chums. The cotton stockings and dingy cravats of old were thrown out in favour of something newer, more refined... more Beau Brummell.
This love of fashion, however, wasn't matched with a similar passion for study. After his first year at Uni, he dropped out and joined the military, instead.
Captain Beau Brummell
As a cornet in the Tenth Royal Hussars, he quickly became known as one who shirked duties, skipped parades and generally did whatever he pleased. A lesser man's name would have been dragged through the mud by such irresponsible behaviour, but not our Beau. His cheek and charm made an impression on his commanding officer, the Prince Regent and future King George IV, and he soon found himself promoted to Captain.
Unfortunately, his military success was short-lived. A change in his regiment's orders left him with little choice but to resign, or else be sent to Manchester, a city of poor reputation, weak ambience and no culture.
Well, it was a no-brainer.
He left the army and, supported by the patronage of the Prince Regent, he adopted a busy schedule of doing nothing much at all.
A Victorian Influencer In London
He'd spend five hours a day getting dressed, he'd have his boots polished with champagne, he'd even brush his teeth- a habit next to unheard of amongst the London elite.
This eccentric wash routine, coupled with his unmatched eye for fashion, made him a popular man. There was a time when being a fashionable Victorian Gentleman meant little more than dressing the way Beau Brummell dressed, walking the way Beau Brummell walked and bathing the way Beau Brummell bathed- i.e. bathing at all.
Needless to say, he was invited to all the hottest parties and mixed in all the highest circles. He was on top of the world, but his popularity was soon to spell his downfall.
A Dandy In Decline
Influenced by his wealthy friends, he took to spending and gambling at will. Lacking their endless riches, however, he was forced to borrow that which he could not pay. His debts grew and grew, and his social credit tumbled. Eventually, he was left with no choice but to flee to France, or else face debtor's prison.
So, flee he did.
What he didn't do, however, was change his lifestyle. He continued to gamble and, twenty years later, his debts finally caught up with him. He was arrested and taken to a French prison. Five years later, he died a penniless inmate of La Bon Sauveur Asylum.
His legend, however, would live on.
Beau Brummell In Popular Culture
As you know, he is, today, commemorated in the form of the Beau Brummell statue, Mayfair, but his legacy extends beyond just this. He is the subject of several books, plays, films, an operetta and even an erotic novella. There was no way that death was going to bury a dandy as delightful as Beau.
A plaque on the front of his statue is inscribed with these words of his: 'To be truly elegant one should not be noticed'. Beau, however was unsuccessful in living up to this maxim
One more thing...
Beau's insistence that his boots be polished with champagne might sound ludicrous, but could have actually been a political statement. England was at war with France at the time. What better way, then, to endear himself with the English elite, than by using their enemy's pride and joy to clean his boots?
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