He’s Just…Dreamy, But Am I Dowdy? Dandies Prowl Our City

I was having tea in a few days with the celebrated New York dandy Patrick McDonald. I was supposed to be working on my novel, but instead I was worrying, already a wreck about what to wear. We’d met once, at the Dandy Bohemian Salon I hosted to launch my new book, Bohemian Manifesto. Hairstylist-to-the-stars Chuck Amos (Beyoncé, Hilary Swank, Iman, Jewel) coaxed my limp, uncooperative locks into a magnificent Breakfast at Tiffany’s swirl; M.A.C. makeup artist Bruce Lindstrom pumped my lashes into glam proportions and made my lips blossom in a shocking shade of coral that I would have been too timid to select on my own. My dress was a vintage mini with ruffled bib from Albertine on Christopher Street, custom-hemmed by Kyung the stylish owner.

But Patrick, in a sweeping fall topped by a statuesque hat, custom black cutaway coat and makeup more artfully applied than Johnny Depp’s swashbuckler-meets-Keith-Richards look in the Pirates of the Caribbean, upstaged me. And it was my book party.

I’m not supposed to mind. I became a writer because I had a wallpaper personality (or do I mean “wallflower”?). Did I mention Patrick’s custom-made silk boutonniere? A pansy.

If Patrick were wallpaper, it would have curlescent, meandering vines, manicured gardens with topiary, voluptuous pink peonies, iridescent hummingbirds, peacocks, a few belvederes here and there and impressive amounts of gold. If I were wallpaper, I would probably be strewn with (shrinking) violets.

I’d studied five types of bohemians for the new book, and it’s the dandy that has me transfixed. Dandies are not drag queens, they are men who preen (David Bowie! Adam Ant! Mick Jagger! And eye-kohled, glitter-dusted newcomer Owen McCarthy of the Everyothers.) Dandies are fearless of ornamentation and affectation. They adore excess and extravagance.

Dandies are not metrosexuals, those victims of high-end consumerism. Dandies are anachronistic, self-made, self-styled. Dandies are never fashion victims, those people who need labels to feel whole. Dandies are artists, and all of life is their canvas. Their art supplies are clothes, accouterments, toiletries. The best of them have wit. What’s not to love about that? Like me, they can find something fabulous at the Salvation Army thrift shop as easily as they can at Barneys, but the difference is the dandy will pull the look together better than I will. How’s a girl supposed to keep up?

Dandyism is refreshing in this casual culture of T-shirts and baseball caps. When I look at pictures of men in bread lines during the Depression, even they look better than the throngs of guys in childish outfits I see sauntering into Bed Bath and Beyond, Starbucks and Tower Records. (None of which are much frequented by dandies.)

Dandies adore the bespoke. But even if their clothing isn’t bespoken, it will be so customized-so personal, so tailored-that it will appear to be. A dandy is more likely to look at old paintings and engravings for fashion and design ideas than magazines, though they might be featured in these magazines as curious, stylish eccentrics.

Composer Lowell Liebermann attended my salon with feathered cap, caped coat, waistcoat, flamboyant tie, jewel-encrusted stickpin and walking stick. Lowell, whose operatic version of The Picture of Dorian Gray premiered in Monte Carlo, says he has no fondness for the term “dandy.” He feels it’s effeminate.

“But look what you were wearing,” I chided.

“I was dressed for the occasion,” he quipped.

Aren’t they always? Please!

Many modern, sensitive men secretly burn to be dandies. Rick Marin, author of Cad (an old-school word only a dandy would use) claims to be a frustrated dandy with only a few flourishes of the type.

“You have to be dedicated to the cause,” he said, “though I’ll occasionally indulge in peacock colors.” Occasionally? I distinctly remember my lunches with him to have had never a taupe moment. Rick was always in vivid Technicolor: a violet shirt with orange tie, pink shirt with viridian, an occasional ascot and pocket square. I always felt faded, outstanding as newsprint next to him.

Rick went off on a dandy diatribe, quoted Tom Wolfe and then proclaimed, “A dandy does it for himself … and it’s a dandy thing to have something only you know about, like shoes that have a red lining no one else can see.” Those would be Rick’s wedding shoes. When a dandy gets married, look out, bride. Rick got decked out in a bespoke white suit, pink shirt and bright red tie. Of course, he styled his own boutonniere.

The night of my Dandy Salon, I wanted to marry Patrick McDonald. A momentary infatuation, he was like a beautiful object you see glittering in an antique shop in Paris and want to take home. I have already done my antiquing, however, and am married to a dandy named Paul Gregory Himmelein-a young gentleman, who, when I met him, was a rock musician living with two bandmates. In their Bleecker Street pad, three types of Aqua Net hair spray, Maybelline eye pencils and pancake makeup were visible on the exposed bathroom shelving.

He moved in with his Victrola and black rotary telephone. He chose our wall colors, fabrics for the chairs and sofas. He created a Dutch kitchen, a Russian-blue living room, dressed the bedroom in chinoiserie. He hand-painted furniture in the 19th-century style.

At our wedding, he wore a Venus’ flytrap boutonniere wrapped in green plaid, while my elegant tweed couture gown blended with the Nantucket landscape.

My husband strides to the Writers Room five days a week in shirt and tie and even on weekends might bring out a pair of cufflinks-he has over 200. I look at him dressed for a quick dinner at Mary’s Fish Camp and I’ll say something like, “I thought we were going casual,” and he’ll say, “I am.”

This means, of course, that I have to slip off the Minnetonka moccasins and slip on the Louboutins.

As for my tea with Patrick? He got to Lady Mendl’s before I did. I found him poised on a chaise, his cranberry cap cocked just so. I was armed with an enormous brooch of pearl and rhinestones. But with his rings the size of demitasse cups, who noticed a brooch?

When we were preparing to leave, Patrick-always the perfect gentleman-tipped the coat-check guy, who retrieved my wrap first. It was long, black cashmere, with covered buttons, plush collar and a magnificent blue-and-white-striped silk lining that swooshed as I was helped into it. Not bad, not bad at all, I thought. But then out came Patrick’s coat: an expanse of shaggy, cuddly, long-haired something in baby blue. Someone in the tea salon cooed, “Oooooooh.”

Don’t you just hate that?

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