DANDY, a word of uncertain origin which about 1813-1816 became a London colloquialism for the exquisite or fop of the period. It seems to have been in use on the Scottish border at the end of the 18th century, its full form, it is suggested, being " Jack-a-Dandy," which from 1659 had a sense much like its later one. It is probably ultimately derived from the French dandin, " a ninny or booby," but a more direct derivation was suggested at the time of the uprise of the Regency dandies. In The Northampton Mercury, under date of the 17th of April 1819, occurs the following: " Origin of the word ' dandy.' This term, which has been recently applied to a species of reptile very common in the metropolis, appears to have arisen from a small silver coin struck by King Henry VII., of little value, called a dandiprat; and hence Bishop Fleetwood observes the term is applied to worthless and contemptible persons."
It was Beau Brummel, the high-priest of fashion, who gave dandyism its great vogue. But before his day foppery in dress had become something more than the personal eccentricity which it had been in the Stuart days and earlier. About the middle of the 18th century was founded the Macaroni Club. This was a band of young men of rank who had visited Italy and sought to introduce the southern elegances of manner and dress into England. The Macaronis gained their name from their introduction of the Italian dish to English tables, and were at their zenith about 1772, when their costume is described as " white silk breeches, very tight coat and vest with enormous white neckcloths, white silk stockings and diamond-buckled red-heeled shoes." For some time the moving spirit of the club was Charles James Fox. It was with the advent of Brummel, however, that the cult of dandyism became a social force. Beau Brummel was supreme dictator in matters of dress, and the prince regent is said to have wept when he disapproved of the cut of the royal coat. Around the Beau collected a band of young men whose insolent and affected manners made them universally unpopular. Their chief glory was their clothes. They wore coats of blue or brown cloth with brass buttons, the coat-tails almost touching the heels. Their trousers were buckskin, so tight that it is said they " could only be taken off as an eel would be divested of his skin." A pair of highly-polished Hessian boots, a waistcoat buttoned incredibly tight so as to produce a small waist, and opening at the breast to exhibit the frilled shirt and cravat, completed the costume of the true dandy. Upon the Beau's disgrace and ruin, Lord Alvanley was regarded as leader of the dandies and " first gentleman in England." Though in many ways a worthier man than Brummel, his vanity exposed him to much derision, and he fought a duel on Wimbledon Common with Morgan O'Connell, who, in the House of Commons, had called him a " bloated buffoon." After 1825 " dandy " lost its invidious meaning, and came to be applied generally to those who were neat in dress rather than to those guilty of effeminacy.
See Barbey D'Aurevilly, Du dandysme et de G. Brummel (Paris, 1887).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)