Monday, 7 January 2013

The elegant man gets dressed

Honoré de Balzac’s 1830 Treatise on Elegant Living was a keystone text on dandyism, preceding Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly’s Anatomy of Dandyism (1845) and Charles Baudelaire’s “The Dandy” (in The Painter of Modern Life, 1863), and marking an important shift from the early dandyism of the British Regency to the intellectual and artistic dandyism of nineteenth-century France.

The Treatise is the first true philosophical expression of dandyism, and is full of well-crafted aphorisms: “Elegant living is, in the broad acceptance of the term, the art of animating repose,” runs one classic definition of dandyism, and “The man of taste must always know how to reduce need to a minimum” asserts the role elegant living can play in times of both opulence and strife. Further embellished with anecdotes and historical and personal illustrations, Balzac’s Treatise even features a fictitious encounter with the original dandy himself, Beau represents a decisive moment in the history of dandyism, and an entertaining exposition on the profundities of what lies deepest within all of us: our appearance.
And here are just some of those profundities:
  • “To distinguish our life through elegance, one must still have been endowed with that indefinable faculty that always prompts us to choose truly beautiful or good things.”
  • "It is not enough to become or to be born rich to lead an elegant life: one must feel it."
  • "Studied elegance is to true elegance what a wig is to hair."
  • "Clothing does not consist so much in clothes as in a certain manner of wearing them. Consequently it is not the rags in themselves as it is the spirit of the rags that one must grasp."
  • "The boor covers himself, the rich man or the fool adorns himself, and the elegant man gets dressed."
I need a copy...

An excellent appreciation of The Treatise by Christian Chensvold may be found at

Honoré de Balzac (20th May 1799 – 18th August 1850)

Balzac by Aubrey Beardsley

More Dandyism

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