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It’s no secret that style in the District is often less than inspiring. There’s a dearth of quality independent boutiques, twin-sets and pearls are still regarded as fashionable, and Georgetown—home to the city’s best shopping—is both hard to get to and filled with tourists and frat boys.
That absence of a compelling fashion scene may help explain why 2010 was the year dandyism went mainstream here. In its second year, Eric Brewer’s social group Dandies and Quaintrelles practically took over D.C., drawing more than 700 to its second annual Tweed Ride, sponsoring a Phillips After 5 party, popping up all over the District’s culture-snob blogs, and even winning some praise in Washington City Paper’s Best of 2010 issue.
What no one seems to have noticed, in the rush to praise Brewer, is that dandyism brings along its own vexing qualities—underneath all that vintage fabric, tweed riders really aren’t so different from the popped collar-and-Croakies sporting Sig Eps from Random Southern University.
According to its website, D&Q is “founded on the ideals of refined style and purposeful living.” Which, judging by the group’s activities, means dressing up in old-timey clothing, tooling around on steel bikes, and giving yourself a noble moniker like “Sir E. Channing”—Brewer’s better-known alias. The self-appointed tastemaker provides advice on the D&Q site about pressing concerns like what cocktails to drink, what bikes to ride, and what clothes to wear.
It’s not that Brewer has bad taste—it’s impossible to deny he looks quite dapper in his tailored jackets, pressed trousers, and bowties. But events like the Tweed Ride and the Seersucker Social amount to pretentious photo ops for lemming-like yuppies. The people who attend them are most likely by and large not aficionados of the ’40s style to which Brewer is so devoted. Many seem to be hipsters trading in their skinny jeans for a pair of ironically worn knickers, or party girls swapping their stilettos for Oxfords in the hopes of a spot on Brightest Young Things.
It’s great that Brewer has such a clearly defined style of his own. And imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; what a huge ego boost it must be, to throw these events and see hundreds of people fashioned in his likeness. It’s bewildering, though, that so many people would choose to follow suit. By virtue of the turnout at D&Q events, Brewer has been vested with a huge amount of power in D.C.’s sartorial scene.
But here’s the thing: Style is individual. Style is organic. Style is not ironic. Style is not about fulfilling someone else’s criteria of what’s stylish. The people who prance around in seersucker and tweed at D&Q events aren’t embodiments of style so much as they are affected copycats.
Here’s to people infusing next year’s Tweed Ride with silk, and velvet, and cotton, and whatever the hell they want. Maybe some people will even nod to safety and trade in their driving caps for bike helmets. In 2011, the District’s dandies should do Brewer a favor and let him be the individual that he is—by finding a style of their own.