12. Beau Brummell was the most fashionable dandy in all of Regency England, even if he racked up huge debts in order to look great
George Bryan Brummell was better known by the affectionate nickname “Beau”, especially among his friend, who included the Prince Regent and many of the most influential men and women in Regency England. In his day, Brummell was famed for his fine sartorial style, his witty and pithy sayings and for his unparalleled network of friends and connections. What made him even more remarkable was that, though rich, he was by no means fabulously wealthy, and his dandy style was largely funded by credit.
Born in 1778, Brummell followed the usual path for boys of the minor aristocracy. After being schooled at Eton – where, famously, he redesigned the uniform – he went to Oxford University before going into the army. It was here that he met the future King George IV. The two became firm friends and, thanks to his royal connection, Brummell rose quickly through the ranks. Within three years, he was made a captain. But when his regiment was sent from London to Manchester, Brummell immediately resigned, horrified at the thought of life outside of the fashionable capital.
It was as a civilian that Brummell really started to make his mark. He took lodgings in Mayfair, the most fashionable part of the city. Wisely, he avoided gambling and drinking, instead spending most of his money on fashion. He declared he needed five hours a day to get ready and eve boasted of cleaning his boots with champagne. Men admired his fine sense of style and many copied his dress, as well as his other ‘vain’ habits such as shaving and bathing on a daily basis.
For almost a decade, Brummell lived beyond his means. His debts were forgiven, or simply politely ignored, due to his friendship with the Prince Regent. When the two fell out over a social quarrel, however, Brummell’s world came crashing down around him. He was forced to flee to France to avoid debtor’s prison. He died alone and impoverished in a French asylum at the age of 61. However, he is remembered as the original dandy, and his flamboyance, as well as his way with words, have been immortalized in numerous books and plays, as well as with a statue in London’s high fashion quarter.