The Dandiacal Body

Since this has been my Week of the Carlyles—immersed in letters, books, and the valiant effort of trundling my tiny brain over the rugged crags and valleys of Carlyle’s monumental Sartor Resartus, (The Tailor Re-tailored) the word ‘stylish’ caught my attention.


Everyone has style, whether they know it, embrace it, love it, or cultivate it. You may not like your style, and even wish to change it, but inevitably it returns like the prodigal, all sheepish, bedraggled, and larger than life. Style is not bought; it is not something that comes from a shop, or by following a fashionista. It has more to do with your DNA than the era you live in–although environment certainly influences it.

But not everyone is stylish. Stylish, as a concept, is fluid, it conveys an idea of the moment, a whim of makers, movers and shakers in the fashion world. (“Tomorrow, my dear,” say the style mavens, “that color will be so passe and only fit to adorn a garden hybrid….”) and let’s not even attempt to recall the ‘stylish’ Big Hair of the 80’s….

Around our house we have the expression ‘it’s so out it’s in’. So much of our style had to do, in our youthful days, with loving anything retro, and now it’s ‘in’. It’s just our bodies that aren’t as with it, so the dream of stylish still eludes one. But oddly enough, so my hair stylist tells me, silver hair is ‘in’. Leave it to the Baby Boomers to create a new reality.image

The attempt to be stylish can either make you shine as a natural talent, or make it evident that you are really out of touch with who you are.

In Sartor Resartus, Carlyle’s most famous work—in which he borrows from an eighteenth-century concept of linguistic style depicted as types of  clothing—he includes a chapter which amused me by his use of the word dandiacal. Carlyle was known for his creative and rough word coinage, and this choice specimen is now going into my Curious Word repository. Regarding the stylish pretensions of the dandy, he writes (in satire, of course; all of this is satire):

‘Your silver or your gold he solicits not; simply the glance of your eyes. Do look at him, and he is contented.’

Under the heading ‘The Dandiacal Body’, Carlyle lists, in mockery, seven Articles of Faith. They are all confusingly amusing, in a way, and no doubt reference certain elements unique to the early eighteenth century of which we are now ignorant, but I will repeat only number seven:

7. The trousers must be exceedingly tight across the hips.’

As Carlyle was known, both tongue in cheek and respectfully as the Sage of Chelsea, this bit of satire, written in 1836, does look to the future, does it not?

And—at the risk of making Carlyle turn in his grave, I include a bit of Ogden Nash whimsy, that expresses Article 7 on the style of trousers in a slightly different way:

‘Sure, deck your limbs in pants;
Yours are the limbs, my sweeting.
You look divine as you advance —
Have you seen yourself retreating?’

The desire to look good and be stylish at the same time is often a wish in excess of reality.

For more on The Carlyles At Home, read here.