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A Popular Idol

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Count D'Orsay., Digital ID 1517977, New York Public LibraryCount D'Orsay, George Arents CollectionIn France, a new dandy supplanted previous notions of this masculine mode. Count Alfred d’Orsay was a sensation in London and Paris of the 1820s and 30s. His great physical beauty, dandified dress, and elegant manners had men and women stopping in the streets to stare after him. His private life—he came from an impoverished branch of French aristocracy—proved scandalous when he was “adopted” by a wealthy English Earl and his wife, and no one was exactly sure whose boyfriend he was.

The Count’s dandyism was less restrained than Brummell’s. He favored velvets and coats cut with a dash. Like many members of the cult of celebrity, however, his popularity faded before he was ready to admit this was so. While d’Orsay epitomizes the dandy as popular idol, his fall shows just how ambivalent men felt about dandyism. Young boys across France emulated his modishness, but by the end of the 1830s masculine fashion had moved on.

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