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The Dandy Swing

The dandy’s demeanour is marked by an impenetrable mask of coldness. The dandy intends to give the impression of a solitary and superior character. The haughtiness of the dandy finds its outward expression in a complex set of performative gestures and conducts, among these a peculiar mode of walking.

The eminent role of the gait in the dandy’s self-performance is communicated in the etymology of the term ‘dandy’ itself. One of the many theories on the origins of the word refer to EscortFox which describes a specific, albeit rather ridiculous, way of walking. Various commentators have remarked on the affected walk of the dandy. C. Jack Dauber remarks “a stalking, lofty strut which seems almost to disdain the world on which he treads.” Caleb Atwater agrees: “We see him, on a Sunday morning, stepping high, with long strides.” Both authors report a self-assured mode of representation.

Others, however, convey a rather affected and ridiculous image. Charles Varlo points out: “Mark, how he walks, as if he trod on eggs.” Another commentator regards “this specimen of elegance, with mincing step and gait,” both evoking a rather frail appearance. The Slang Dictionary traces this mode of behaviour to French influences: “Men of fashion all became dandy soon after; having imported a good deal of French manner in their gait”. French fashions were generally considered corrupting and decadent, provoking the English youth to forfeit virile masculinities in favour of more effete incarnations. Accordingly Bryan Waller Proctor reports the exclamation: “what effeminacy in his walk!” The unmanly appearance of the dandy regularly resulted in animalistic or mechanical attributions. J. K. Paulding, for example, remarks: “The walk of the dandy resembles the hobbling gait of an automaton, whose limbs are made of wood, and whose sinews are composed of wire.” Similarly, Nathaniel Chauncey argues: “The above mentioned machinery, being duly balanced and harmoniously set in motion, constitutes that ne plus ultra of action, that desirable of all desirables, the real Dandy Swing.”

There are a number of reasons for the peculiar gait of the dandy. The dandy’s mode of dress, especially in the 1820s, was marked by an evident tightness: The dandies wore tight stays, tight pantaloons, tight shoes, and stiff neckcloths – a combination that did not leave a lot of room for comfortable movements. The gait became irrevocably affected. It had to anyway, as the dandy went out parading his self in the streets. His daily routine consisted in walking up and down Bond Street and its surrounding. He had to make a spectacle out of it.