George Bryan Brummel (England, 1778-1840)


Figure 1.--.

One of the most noted figures in men's clothing is Beau Brummell. George Bryan better known as Beau Brummel was the most famous of the dashing young men of the Regency. We know little about his childhood at this time. He was not of aristocratic birth, but was drawn to the upper class life style. After becoming Prince Regent he became friends with Beau Brummel. While known as a flashy dresser today, Brummel in fact believed in a much more sober style and less bright colors. Prinny's approval caused many aristocrats to adopt Brummel's style. High heels and bright colors for gentlemen went out of style. Brummel began to regarded in the circles around the Prince as a virtual oracle on matters related to dress and etiquette. He played a major in popularizing trousers as opposed to knee breeches.

Biography

Beau Brummel was the most famous of the dashing young men of the Regency. He was not of aristocratic birth, but was drawn to the upper class life style. He was the son of Lord North's private secretary (1770-82). Lord North was George III's prime minister who played a major role in the American Revolution. He was born in London as George Bryan Brummell (1778). I know little about his childhood at this time. Given his father's position, he must have been exposed to the aristocracy at an early age. His grandfather was a a humble shopkeeper in St. James Parish. To earn some extra money, his grandfather would rent rooms to aristocratic gentlemen which further acquainted George to aristocrats, how they behaved and dressed. Apparently for some he reason he even as a boy was struck with how they dressed. I have no details on how George was dressed as a boy. Given the time, it is likely that he wore skeleton suits as a boy. This could be part of the reason that when he latter became the fashion arbiter for Regency England that he promoted trousers over knee breeches. Brummel was educated at Eton where he became known as Buck and was extremelly well liked by the other boys. He spent a short period at Oriel College, Oxford. His literary talent and wit are demonstrated by the fact that he was second for the Newdigate prize. It was at this time that the Prince Regent who had been told that Brummel was a witty fellow, obtained an appointment for him in his regiment (1794). Brummel eventually became a Captain of the Tenth Hussars and providing him the right to wear a fancy uniform. He became a friend of the Prince of Wales, the future George IV, who was a good bit older but impressed with Brummel's wit and dress. He was constantly in the Prince's company. Because of this relationship and his dress, he began to regarded in the circles around the Prince as a virtual oracle on matters related to dress and etiquette--vurtually a court fashion arbiter. He resigned his commission just as the Napoleonic Wars were beginning (1798). Soon afterwards with the death of his father he inherited what at the time was a small fortune, about £30,000 (1799). Brummel maintained an elegant establishment in Mayfair (London). Here his witty remarks became the talk of London society. He was reported an exceptional story teller and conversationalist. Brummel because of his life style rapidly depleted his funds. When his money ran out, in part from reckless gambling, he lost his high-placed friends. He even insulting his friend the Prince Regent with his biting and sometimes all too accurate wit. Brummel was forced to leave England for France (1816). Here is timing was impeccable. Fleeing to France a few years earlier when the Napoleonic Wars were raging would have been more difficult. The flight to France was necessary, otherwise he would have been arrested and put in a debtor's prison. He struggled with debts in France as well. Friends in England helped, even securing an appointment as British consul in Caen, France (1830-32). He spent a time in a French debtor's prison until rescued by friends. By this time he was no longer interested in clothes. He was normally slovenly and always dirty--despite the fact that he had once been so meticulous about personal cleanliness. He was taken in by the Asylum du Bon Sauveur, a mendicant hospital in Caen for the insane (1837). He died a pauper in Caen (1840).

George IV (1752-1830)

George IV as Prince of Wales, or Prinny as he was called, was quite a flashy dresser. Indeed he dressed like a typical 18th century dandy. The Prince turned 21 in 1783. At the time this made him eligible to engage in the proceedings, including the debates, in the House of Lords. THe Prince for his first speech showed up in pink high heels which matched the pink satin lining of his black velvet, gold-embroidered (and pink-spangled) suiting. After becoming Prince Regent he became friends with Beau Brummel. While known as a flashy dresser today, Brummel in fact believed in a much more sober style and less bright colors. Prinny's approval caused many aristocrats to adopt Brummel's style. High heels and bright colors for gentlemen went out of style.

Clothes

France for some time, especially with Louis XIV and his successors dominated European fashions. After the French Revolution (1789) and especially the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), anything French became suspect in England and this especially included men's but not so much women's fashions. As a result, English men's fashions became increasingly important in the early 19th century. It was precisely at this time that Brummel was in his ascendancy as a fashion arbiter in England. His influence on men's fashions was quite important. He stressed the cut of the garment and the quality of the fabric rather than fancy trim which had been very important. He discouraged not only the fancy trim, but also the bright colors that were popular in the late 18th century. Lord Byron is reported to have said, that there was nothing really exceptional about Brummel's dress save “a certain exquisite propriety”. Brummel preferred simple lines in the garment cut. Brummel also played a major role in popularizing trousers rather than knee breeches for men. Brummel gave great attention to neckwear, especially how to tie them.

Regency Fashion

A typical Regency outfit for day wear was a jacket cut away in front, but with tails at the back. There is no waist seam, a feature present in Victorian coats. The open area around the hip has a distinctive curve pulling slightly around the waist. Even more notably, the sleeves are particularly long and seated high on the shoulder. There are virtually no shoulder pads. Normally jackets had fabric-covered buttons. An exception was blue jackets with often had brass metal buttons--perhaps because of an association with military styles.

Company Name

Beau Brummel is an upscale menswear specialty retailer located in the heart of Soho, New York. Beau Brummel carries men's clothing including: suits, sport jackets, slacks and overcoats; sportswear including: casual slacks, sweaters, knitwear, sport shirts, leathers and outerwear; furnishings including: dress shirts, ties, socks, belts and accessories.

Movies

The life of Beau Brummel has been made into several movies. There was a silent film in 1924 and another film in 1954. Legendary actor John Barrymore played Brummel in 1924. The plot has Brummel engaging in a war against high society when he cannot marry the woman he loves because of his social position, he becomes a faddish fop. This is not a very good characterization of his fashion sense. Beau Brummel has been a character in many other films. The 1954 film is a lavishly told costume drama describing how Brummel a commoner during the Napoleonic era through his social skills, especially his sartorial sence, to align himself with the Prince Regent--the future King George IV. Liz Taylor helps enliven the film.







HBC






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Created: May 20, 2002
Spell checked: August 26, 2003
Last updated: 3:59 AM 7/31/2009