BY MONIQUE QUINTANA
The term metrosexual is often used to describe a modern man that takes an interest in the latest fashions. The term dandy is much more decadent and carries with it the gravity of male fashion politics. The dandy is often shunned and/or vilified to make way for a society’s dark scheme. These men are often ridiculed due to gender expectations, and this public shaming is often explored and examined in art.
In film, dandies are often made a spectacle to teach their communities a lesson. As we see in the following three films, men who succumb to the decadence of glamour often pay a large price for their vanity.
DANGEROUS LIAISONS (1988)
John Malkovich is masterly as Valmont, who manipulates his way into the bedrooms of beautiful women with the help of the dazzling Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil, played by Glenn Close. Valmont has made an art of making other people suffer and he lacks for nothing when it comes to trendy French fashion. The opening scene of the film is a kaleidoscope of foppery. Valmont has male servants that dress him in opulent textiles and powder his wig and face to a deathly alabaster hue.
The film also stars Keanu Reeves as the very poor musician boy, Le Chevalier Raphael Danceny. On a different social stratum than Valmont, he doesn’t get custom made wigs, but rather, styles his dark brown hair to a dewy innocence. He’s so beautiful, he’s painful to look at. His modest fashion marks him as the foil to the depraved Valmont, who must find redemption through the love of a woman. As the film progresses, we see Valmont tragically unravel due to a vanity that he cannot control.
This biopic explores all the delicious decadence of queer Victorian London. Oscar Wilde is very easily the poster-boy of dandy fashion and Stephen Frye plays the Irish-born novelist and playwright with a subdued fabulousness that is always eclipsed by warmth, charm, and intellect. On screen, he is a perfect pair with his young lover, the rich brat, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, played with dazzling intensity by Jude Law.
While Boise is fascinating to watch, he is easy to loathe. Wilde is the heart of the film. His large overcoats allude to both his flamboyance and his vulnerability. While “Boise” often wears his boyish straw hats and flashy pastel suits, he also dons black and white tuxedos, revealing the fact that he must turn his gentleman switch on whenever the status quo and his illustrious family, requires him to do so. Wilde is never too far from his dandy aesthetic. Like the cane his taps along the London streets, he is always grounded in his convictions.
Byron is another biopic, a made-for British television film. It’s the immense story of a fashionable, yet important Romantic poet. While the real life Byron was rumored to wear his dark hair in rag curlers to create Botticelli-like curls, the figure is no less stunning in this film, played by a statuesque Jonny Lee Miller.
Byron’s story could be likened to the tragic rise and fall of the contemporary fashion designer, John Galliano, a man of fashion who was celebrated for his brazen risk-taking art and then condemned for his extravagant lifestyle and unfortunate atrocities against others.
The Byron film explores the poet’s controversial politics and relationship with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, whom he was rumored to be involved with sexually. While it is unknown if the real-life Byron actually shared an incestuous relationship with Leigh, the film relays it as a truth and Byron is compelled to flee London and his detractors, in self-imposed exile. The rock star of early nineteenth-century London, he is doubly shamed because of his ever-looming vanity.
Monique Quintana is the Editor-in-Chief of the literary blogazine, Razorhouse. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from CSU Fresno, and her work has been published or is forthcoming in Huizache, Bordersenses, and The Acentos Review, among others. She is a Pocha/Chicana identified mother, daughter, sister, lover, and teacher from California’s Central Valley.