On this day in history : 7th June 1778 – The birth of George Bryon ‘Beau’ Brummell – English ‘dandy’, who was friends with the Prince of Wales – and credited for the modern men’s suit….

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English dandy George Bryan Brummell (1778 -1840), known as Beau Brummell. Public domain

George was born into a middle-class family – but his father, William, a politician, was determined his youngest son would grow-up to be a gentleman…. He sent George to Eton….where he proved to be very popular and became known as ‘Buck Brummell’…. From an early age George had paid attention to his attire – and customised his Eton uniform by wearing a gold buckle on his white necktie….

On returning to London, after a brief spell at Oxford University, he became close friends with the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward IV….whom he had been presented to at Eton…. The Prince gave George a commission of Cornet (once the lowest ranking officer – now abolished) in his own personal regiment, The Tenth Royal Hussars…. He worked his way up to the rank of Captain but resigned his commission immediately when it was announced the regiment was to relocate from London to Manchester…. In a show of snobbery he highlighted the city’s ‘undistinguished ambience and want of culture and civilty’….

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Beau Brummell, in Harpers magazine, 1855 – Public domain

In 1799 he came into a small fortune, some £30,000 left to him by his father on his death…. George set himself up in a Mayfair bachelor pad…. With his friendship with the Prince of Wales and influence in fashion style he was at the centre of the most elite of social gatherings….

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A ball at Almack’s, supposedly 1815. It is thought the gentleman at the forefront on the left hand side is Brummell…. Rees Howell Gronow – Public domain

Being an arbiter of fashion, having influence over the Prince – and any self-respecting gentleman – he shunned the frills and frivolity of the ornate fashions of the time…. He preferred understated but perfect tailoring; dark coats, full length trousers (rather than knee breeches and stockings) and immaculate linen shirts – always with a knotted cravat at his throat…. He claimed it took him five hours to dress – and his boots were polished with Champagne….

When asked how much it cost to keep a single man in clothes he replied ‘it might be done for £800 per year’…. The average wage for a skilled craftsman at that time was £52 per year….

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1805 caricature of Brummell by Richard Dighton – Public domain

Eventually George’s extravagant lifestyle was to catch-up with him…. He was gambling hard and spending heavily to keep up with his wealthy friends; he could not maintain this way of life…. He also quarrelled with the now Prince Regent Edward – who had distanced himself from his old friends since elevating to this position…. The friendship that had already been strained ceased to be…. George did not drop out of society immediately – but his debts continued to increase and in 1816 he eventually had to flee to France to avoid his creditors….

For the next few years he struggled financially…. He spent the first ten years of his self-imposed exile in Calais before securing a position with the Consulate in Caen…. Two years later he made the recommendation to the Foreign Office that the Consulate be abolished – expecting to be offered a better position elsewhere…. However, his plan backfired and once again he was left without an income….

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Beau Brummell in Caen – Public domain

Having lost his self-respect his interest in his appearance disappeared….he became dirty, scruffy and shabby…. In 1835 he was imprisoned for debt – his Calais creditors having caught-up with him…. Fortunately for him some of his old friends came to his rescue, bailing him out and providing him with a modest income….

But George was beginning to increasingly live in a fantasy world….he was making no sense…. By 1837 he was completely insane and was found a place in the Bon Sauveur Asylum in Caen….where on the 30th of March 1840 he died of syphilis…. He is buried at Cimetiere Protestant in Caen….

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A Gillette advertisment, 1917 – Public domain

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