The nineteenth-century dandy’s heroic renunciation through fashion | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 3, Issue 1-2
  • ISSN: 2040-4417
  • E-ISSN: 2040-4425


The example of the nineteenth-century literary dandy offers a strategy for transcending social, class and gender barriers through fashion. In this article, I demonstrate that writers, from Eugène Sue to Charles Baudelaire and Rachilde, used representations of the dandy’s androgyny and luxury as a means of overcoming the subordination of the literary domain to capitalist practices. The dandy’s inevitable narrative punishment through death and disgrace also provides release from the tension stemming from the ideological shift in men’s sartorial practices from ostentatious garb to sober and more ‘democratic’ clothing at the end of the eighteenth century. I argue that the dandy’s anti-normative behaviour is a heroic act, perceived and represented by his literary ‘parents’, when both capitalist and political discourses propagate a spurious equality and impose a misleading uniformity in dress on post-Revolution French society. The dandy’s excesses allow modern readers to decipher the writers’ attempt to bridge the gap between social appearances and political reality. For early nineteenth-century writers, the dandy could only be a social climber and a criminal. However, as the century closes, writers begin to appreciate his counter-discursive impact.


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