Jane Austen wrote mainly about the Regency period in the early 1800s.
The most influential fashion during this time was the dandy, and Beau Brummel was said to be ‘The King of the Dandies’.
There’s even a statue of him today on fashionable Jermyn Street.
Brummel was universally accepted as the sole arbiter of fashion and the ultimate authority on all matters of manners and behaviour.
Brummel’s style combined simple and elegant cuts with exquisite tailoring and the finest materials, in fact he employed multiple tailors according to their individual speciality.
He would change his clothes several times a day so they were always immaculate.
He would have at least a dozen cravats tied until one was perfect.
He affected ‘spezzatura’ – casual elegance, nonchalant perfection.
The Prince of Wales once burst into tears because Brummel criticised the cut of his coat.
All the dandies in London were in thrall to Brummel’s effortless superiority and idolised him.
The dandies, who saw themselves as the leaders in thought and style, couldn’t wait to copy his every move.
Once, Brummel bet a friend that he could have every dandy in London wearing a dandelion in their buttonhole by the end of the day.
The friend didn’t believe anyone would purposely wear a weed.
So Brummel had his servant collect every dandelion he could find.
Then he examined them all until he found the perfect one, and wore it in his buttonhole as he sauntered to his club, for all to see.
Immediately, every dandy in London was desperate to find a dandelion for their buttonhole, rather than be left out.
But dandelions aren’t available in florists, dandelions are weeds, so the dandies had their servants scour every street, every garden, every park in search of them.
And, sure enough, by evening every dandy was wearing a dandelion in their buttonhole.
Because the dandies, who considered themselves the very leaders of fashion, were actually just slavish imitators.
They considered themselves ‘innovators’ but were in fact just ‘opinion-followers’.
The same way we find those desperate to jump on the bandwagon of the latest technological fad believing they are thought leaders.
Today it’s ChatGPT, before that it was the Metaverse, before that it was VR, before that it was Pokemon GO, before that it was Big Data, before that it was QR codes, and so on.
It isn’t thinking it’s just fashion, in fact it isn’t even fashion it’s just FOMO.
Nobody looks at the dandelion and thinks, “Hang on, does that make sense?”
Everyone is reacting, “He’s got a dandelion, I must have a dandelion. I can’t be left out.”
The cycle goes like this: something new appears and trade journalists, always desperate for something to write about, pounce on it thinking it’s news.
Ad agencies who want to appear to be at the forefront, read about it and jump on the bandwagon without really knowing why.
Clients, seeing that everyone in advertising is talking about the new thing, decide they must have it in case their competitors do.
Meanwhile outside that bubble is the real world, where people couldn’t give a damn about the latest technological gimmick any more than about dandelions.
But the advertising and marketing dandies don’t care.
They are oblivious to the ‘hoi polloi’, they are the elite and so they only watch each other.
They believe the whole world is watching them and what they do.
When of course it should be the other way round.