by Tom Stratton

Beau Brummell: The Original Influencer

If there was ever an influencer before the age of social media then...
Beau Brummell: The Original Influencer
If there was ever an influencer before the age of social media then surely Beau Brummell has got to be a contender for the first. A celebrity purely for his fashion sense and wit, Brummell was the original dandy. If there was an early-19th century Love Island you can guarantee Beau Brummell would have been a contestant. 
Brummell was born in 1778 to middle class parents with aspirations to reach the echelons of high society, something which Beau at least would go on to achieve (for a while anyway). His father, William, was private secretary to prime minister Lord North so they weren’t doing too badly, his father just longed for more for his sons. He did manage to send them to Eton, putting Beau straight amongst the very aristocracy they were aiming to join.

Eton Life

Beau had always shown an interest in clothing but now at Eton he was very much developing his style, adding accessories where he saw fit, coming up with new ways to wear items. He also became famed around the school for his comic timing and wit, something which would make him very popular amongst his peers. 
Unfortunately Brummell’s father died in 1794 when young Beau was just 16. Still, fortunately for him, he and his two siblings were left a fortune of around £60,000, an extraordinary amount at the time which would surely bring him that bit closer to the society he wished to join. He also went off to Oxford University this same year but, after just one term, he decided he wanted to join the army. He managed to do so with the Prince of Wales’ own regiment: 10th Light Dragoons. They wore elaborate uniforms and were known to drink heavily and now, 16 year old Beau, was part of the gang. The Prince’s gang no less. 

Rise to the Top

It was a rarity that a non-aristocrat, especially one so young, would become such close friends with the prince. Surely Beau’s wit must have carried him, that and the sharp dress sense he was known and to be famed for. In his short life so far he was already in the circles he, and his father, craved. Just two years later, after several promotions, he was allowed access to his inheritance and left the regiment for London where he would really make his name. If there was electricity it would have soon been up in lights.
Moving to London, Beau maintained his close relationship with Prince George and his new higher social circle. People, including the Prince, would visit to see Brummell’s morning routine; they needed to see what Beau would be wearing as he quickly made himself be known as the best dressed man in London with the elaborate folds of his neck cloths and his understated colours and fits.
The period before this, the mid-eighteenth century, was the height of rococo influence. This meant there were grand designs in everything including clothing which tended towards brighter colours and more gaudy dress. In his abandonment of the style in favour of limited colour and understatement Brummell ushered in a new period of fashion which wouldn’t really alter that much, in terms of colour, for another 150+ years. He’s probably the reason some men are still shy about wearing too much colour. 
Soon, Beau was not only influencing fashions but also deciding whether someone was part of the ‘in crowd’ or not. He had truly reached those heights he’d wished for so early on in life, like he’d made it his mission and everything had fallen into place. However this was not to last long as gambling, extravagance, and of course clothes meant that his inheritance was starting to dwindle. Plus he would soon lost the patronage of the Prince who helped him get there in the first place. 
As the Prince moved up in circles it seemed he abandoned many of his old friends and, regardless, Brummell was now part of that society and no longer needed that patronage. That is if he wasn’t to blow all his money and, to top it off, insult the prince. The famous story goes that whilst Brummell was with a group of friends the prince approached and greeted the others but blanked Beau. Beau responded by turning to his friend and asking “Who’s your fat friend?”; pretty funny by all accounts but the prince didn’t feel the same. 


Drowning in debt from his lifestyle and now shunned by the prince, Brummell went into self-imposed exile. Society had started to notice that he had borrowed an awful lot and clearly had no intention of paying anything back. Ostracised and skint, Beau Brummell fled to France in 1816 to avoid debtors prison. Unfortunately he couldn’t escape the syphilis he’d picked up as a part of his lavish lifestyle and had periods of great illness. He also managed to get into more debt in Calais.
Although Brummell’s situation seemed hopeless, help would come in 1830 from an unlikely source: the prince, now King George IV, gave Beau the title of consul of Caen. The king would die soon after so perhaps it was repentance for his old friend. Either way the salary would mean that he could now start to pay back some of the debt he’d acquired, his life still a far cry from the celebrated hipster he once was. 


Unfortunately the position only lasted 2 years and, upon losing the title, Brummell was arrested for the various debts he owed. After he managed to get compensation for his lost role as consul he secured his release and, were it not for the crippling syphilis he might have thought his luck was in. This didn’t turn out to be the case: just five years later he would die in an asylum after the syphilis had driven him to madness. 
The once-celebrated dandy and fashion leader had succumbed to his own desires. He’d spent his life chasing the aristocracy and, once there, went at it with such fervour that it destroyed him financially, socially, and physically. Still, he lived the only life he ever wanted for a while and there’s now a statue of him in Mayfair, London which I’m sure he would have absolutely loved.