About George Bryan "Beau" Brummell
George Bryan "Beau" Brummell (7 June 1778 – 30 March 1840) was an iconic figure in Regency England, the arbiter of men's fashion, and a friend of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. He established the mode of dress for men that rejected overly ornate fashions for one of understated, but perfectly fitted and tailored clothing. This look was based on dark coats, full-length trousers rather than knee breeches and stockings, and above all immaculate shirt linen and an elaborately knotted cravat.
Beau Brummell is credited with introducing, and establishing as fashion, the modern men's suit, worn with a tie. He claimed he took five hours a day to dress, and recommended that boots be polished with champagne. His style of dress is often referred to as dandyism.
Brummell was born in London, the son of William Brummell, a politician, of Donnington Grove in Berkshire. The family was middle class, but the elder Brummell was ambitious for his son to become a gentleman, and young George was raised with the understanding. Brummell was educated at Eton and made his precocious mark on fashion when he not only modernized the white stock, or cravat, that was the mark of the Eton boy, but added a gold buckle to it.
He progressed to Oxford University, where, by his own example, he made cotton stockings and dingy cravats a thing of the past. While an undergraduate at Oriel College in 1793, he competed for the Newdigate Prize. He lost the award, and was reportedly so put out by losing that he not only developed an aversion to books and bookish men, but was disinclined to ever exert himself again.
He was fair complexioned, and had "a high nose, which was broken down by a kick from a horse soon after he went into the Tenth Dragoons".
In June 1794 Brummell joined the illustrious Tenth Royal Hussars as a cornet, or lowest rank of commissioned officer. In April 1795 he was promoted to lieutenant. His father died the same year, leaving an inheritance of £65,000; of which Brummell was entitled to a third. Normally an extensive sum, it was not an adequate inheritance for an aspiring officer in the 10th. The officers, many of whom would be inheriting noble titles and lands "wore their estates upon their backs - some of them before they had inherited the paternal acres." Officers in any military regiment were required to provide their own mounts and uniforms and be responsible for mess bills, but the 10th in particular had elaborate and almost unending variations of costume. In addition, their mess expenses were enormous as the regiment did not stint itself on either banquets or entertainment. And, at the head of it all, was the Prince of Wales, the future George IV, whose personal regiment this was.
For such a junior officer, Brummell took the regiment by storm, and the prince was fascinated and drawn by the force of his personality. He was allowed to miss parade, shirk his duties, and in essence, do exactly as he pleased. Within three years, by 1796, he was made a captain, to the combined envy and disgust of the older officers, who felt that: "our general’s friend was now the general.” When his regiment was sent from London to Manchester he immediately resigned his commission, citing the city's poor reputation, lack of atmosphere, and an absence of culture and civility.
In London society
Although he was now a civilian, Brummell's friendship with, and influence over, the Prince continued. His simple, yet elegant and understated manner of dress, coupled with his natural wit, gained him entry to the Regent's royal society. The life and the daily routine of most aristocratic men of the time included making one's toilette and shopping in the morning; riding in Hyde Park or making the round of gentlemen’s clubs in the afternoon; followed by the theatre, gambling at Almack’s or a private party, or visiting the brothels in the evening. He took a house on Chesterfield Street in Mayfair and for a time managed to avoid the nightly gaming and other extravagances needed to move in that elevated level. Where he refused to economise was on his dress. Brummell put into practice, perhaps instinctively, the principles of harmony of shape and contrast of colors, with such a pleasing result that men of superior rank sought his professional opinion on their dress.
The Duke of Bedford once did this touching a coat. Brummell examined his Grace with the cool impertinence which was his Grace’s due. He turned him about, scanned him with scrutinizing, contemptuous eye, and then taking the lapel between his dainty finger and thumb, he exclaimed in a tone of pitying wonder, “Bedford do you call this thing a coat?”
When asked how much it would cost to keep a single man in clothes, he was supposed to have replied: "Why, with tolerable economy, I think it might be done with £800." That amount is approximately $160,000 in 2012 currency; the average wage for a craftsman for that time was £1 a week.
His personal habits, such as a fastidious attention to cleaning his teeth, shaving, and daily bathing exerted an influence on the ton, upper echelons of polite society, who began to do likewise. Enthralled, the Prince would spend hours in Brummell's dressing room, witnessing the progress of his friend's lengthy morning toilette.
Unfortunately, Brummell's wealthy friends had a less than satisfactory influence on him; he soon began spending and gambling as though his fortunes were as extensive as theirs. Such liberal outlay began to deplete his capital rapidly, and he found it increasingly difficult to maintain his prestige. He economised by keeping horses, rather than a carriage, but was famously embarrassed when he rang for "Wales" one night and it did not appear. His debts mounted, but he could still float a line of credit. This changed on July 1813 at a masquerade ball at Watier's private club, when Brummell, who was one of the hosts, openly antagonised the Prince Regent, thereby forcing society to choose between them.
Brummell, Lord Alvanley, Henry Mildmay and Henry Pierrepoint were considered the prime movers of Watier's, dubbed "the Dandy Club" by Byron. All four were hosts at the ball, where the Prince Regent greeted Alvanley and Pierrepoint, but then "cut" Brummell and Mildmay by snubbing them, staring them in the face but not speaking to them. This provoked Brummell's famous remark, "Alvanley, who's your fat friend?" The Prince Regent was not amused; this incident was the final and most public sign that Brummell was no longer favored by "Prinny". This finalized the long-developing rift between them, dated by Campbell to 1811, the year the Prince became Regent and began abandoning all his old Whig friends. Normally, the loss of royal favour to a favourite was doom, but Brummell ran as much on the approval and friendship of other rulers of the several fashion circles. He became the anomaly of a favourite flourishing without a patron, still in charge of fashion and courted by large segments of society.
Alvanley continued to support Brummell, sending money to his friend during Brummell's exile in France. However, his debt spiralled out of control, and he tried to recover by devices that only dug the hole deeper. In 1816, he fled to France to escape debtor's prison – he owed thousands of pounds. Usually, Brummell's gambling debts, as "debts of honour", were always paid immediately. The one exception to this was the final wager recorded for him in White's betting book. Recorded March, 1815, the debt was marked "not paid, 20th January, 1816".
He lived the remainder of his life in France, spending ten years in Calais without an official passport before acquiring an appointment to the consulate at Caen due to the influence of Lord Alvanley and the Marquess of Worcester, only in the reign of William IV. This provided him with a small annuity. This appointment lasted for two years before Brummell recommended that the Foreign Office abolish the consulate at Caen in the hope of being moved to a more profitable position elsewhere. The consulate was abolished but no new position was granted. Brummell rapidly ran out of money and was forced into debtors' prison by his long put off Calais creditors; only after the charitable intervention of his friends in England was he able to secure release. Brummell died penniless and insane from syphilis at La Bon Sauveur Asylum on the outskirts of Caen in 1840.
Brummell played a single first-class match for pre-county club Hampshire in 1807 against an early England side. Brummell made scores of 23 and 3 in the match to leave him with a career batting average of 13.00.
In popular culture
Brummell appears as a character in Arthur Conan Doyle's 1896 historical novel Rodney Stone. In the novel, the title character's uncle, Charles Tregellis, is the center of the London fashion world, until Brummell ultimately supplants him. Tregellis' subsequent death from mortification serves as a deus ex machina in that it resolves Rodney Stone's family poverty, as his rich uncle bequeaths a sum to his sister.
Brummell's life was dramatised in an 1890 stage play in four acts by American playwright Clyde Fitch and starred Richard Mansfield. This in turn was adapted for the 1924 silent movie with John Barrymore and Mary Astor. Another play about him, authored by Bertram P Matthews, is only remembered because it had incidental music written for it by Edward Elgar. It was staged at the Theatre Royal, Birmingham in November 1928, with Elgar himself conducting the orchestra on its first night. Only the minuet from this is now performed.
Earlier movies included a 10-minute film by the Vitagraph Company of America (1913), based on a Booth Tarkington story, and the 1913 Beau Brummell and his Bride, a short comedy made by the Edison Company. Brummell's life was also made the subject of a 1931 three-act operetta by Reynaldo Hahn, later broadcast by Radio-Lille (1963). In 1937 there was a radio drama on Lux Radio Theater with Robert Montgomery as Brummell and Gene Lockhart as the Prince. A further film, Beau Brummell, was made in 1954 with Stewart Granger playing the title role and Elizabeth Taylor as Lady Patricia Belham. There were also two television dramas: the sixty-minute So war Herr Brummell (Süddeutscher Rundfunk, 1967) and the UK Beau Brummell: This Charming Man (2006) starring James Purefoy as Brummell.
Georgette Heyer, author of a number of Regency romance novels, included Brummell as a character in her 1935 novel Regency Buck. He is also a minor character in T. Coraghessan Boyle's 1982 novel, Water Music. More recently, Brummell is the detective-hero of a series of period mysteries by Californian novelist Rosemary Stevens, including Death on a Silver Tray (2000), The Tainted Snuff Box (2001), The Bloodied Cravat (2002), and Murder in the Pleasure Gardens (2003). These are written as if related by their hero.
Brummell's name became associated with style and good looks and was therefore borrowed for a variety of products or alluded to in songs and poetry. One product named after the dandy was the Beau Brummell rhododendron, hybridized in 1934 by Lionel de Rothschild and still available. Flowering in late June, it has red, waxy flowers with darker speckling. Then during the 1940s and 1950s watchmaker LeCoultre marketed a watch of that name. It had a minimalist design with no numbers and a small modern face.
T.S.Eliot's poem about "Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town" refers to him as the "Brummell of Cats", an allusion taken up in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, the 1981 musical based on Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939). Around that time other allusions to Brummell began to appear in rock lyrics, but the name had already been adopted by rock bands in the 1960s: the faux-British Invasion band The Beau Brummels and Beau Brummell Esquire and His Noble Men, the name used by South African born Michael Bush for his English rock group. Billy Joel's 1980 #1 hit song "It's Still Rock and Roll to me" references Beau Brummel in the lyrics.