Few people recognize the world as inspirational and colorful as Dandy Wellington does, and even fewer people understand the importance of dressing up.
Born and raised in Harlem, New York, and graduating from NYU with a degree in Theatre, Dandy Wellington devoted himself to two of the most creatively consuming loves of his life: Music and Style. Traveling and performing with his band “Dandy Wellington and His Band“, his Jazz-inspired music is as vibrant as his dress, showing us that Dandyism is more than just a superficial attempt took look your best; it’s a lifestyle that represents perfection in the most personal way. True to his name, Dandy dresses and performs with a colorful exuberance that warms the mundane that, he believes, is looming over the modern man, and preventing the wholeness with which men in the 1930s (and even today) decide to dress.
Q. What does Dandyism mean to you?
A. Dandyism is a lifestyle based mainly on the art of embodying a unique elegance through dress. Although dandyism is most often associated with one’s sartorialism, I believe that it grows beyond the superficial. To me, the dandy is the ultimate gentleman who is well schooled in everything from art and culture, cocktails and cuisine, to history and politics. He’s not just well dressed but well rounded.
Q. What is it that you find most appealing about Dandyism?
A. It’s almost that dandyism is a lifestyle challenge; a quest to be the best version of myself that I can be.
Q. How did “Dandy Wellington and his Band” first begin and what was the inspiration behind it?
A. Like many American kids, I always wanted to start a band. Music was a huge part of my childhood and I grew up learning about jazz from my mother. After studying theatre at New York University, I was introduced to the vintage scene in New York by my friend Gin Minsky and I fell in love. Here was a world where the Jazz Age was alive and kicking with vintage lovers from all walks of life in the mix. However, there weren’t many African-Americans involved in, or leading, early Swing or Traditional Jazz bands, especially in Harlem. It was very strange to me that a musical genre, whose dominant influence was black America, was being performed by so few black Americans. Needless to say, I got involved. Dandy Wellington and His Band exists to honor the artistic brilliance and showmanship of Jazzmen like Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington. We help to keep that sound present in people’s lives.
Growing up in Harlem, where so many influential African-American and Jazz Age figures lived, one can’t help but be affected
Q. How does Dandyism translate itself into the world of music, as it is a concept that is traditionally seen to focus solely on the exterior details of dress?
A. The most important element of a band is the sound – The players have to be quality, and the music has to swing above all – Once you have that, it’s all about style. Dandyism is a key ingredient because it informs not just the music we play but the venues we frequent and the audiences we attract. It’s sophisticated yet approachable. Not to mention, the band always looks great. It’s called well-dressed Jazz for a reason!
Q. You grew up in Harlem, known for its vast array of styles, personalities, and people. How has that experience influenced you and your music?
A. Growing up in New York alone has made me very aware of, and in love with, the history of my hometown. New York is a city whose history is ever present and has been immortalized in every form of art imaginable. Its energy is very present in my art and personality. Add that to growing up in Harlem, where so many influential African-American and Jazz Age figures lived, one can’t help but be affected. I grew up in a historic brownstone built in 1894, surrounded by books, music, and art that cataloged the history of black peoples in America. That history is the lens through which I see the world. It is present in the way I dress, the songs I write and sing and the events I produce. My first album, ‘Harlem Rhythm’ is inspired by the sights and sounds of Harlem with each original song serving as a little love note to that historic part of New York. It’s been said many times about history “you can’t know where you’re going till you know where you’ve been”.
Q. How does Dandyism fit in into the fast-paced, modern New York lifestyle?
A. It’s interesting to think about a modern dandy because it’s almost an oxymoron. In a fast paced world, tying a bow tie, putting on a detachable collar, or even getting shoes resoled could seem too time-consuming. We as modern people must be too busy to incorporate these skills into our lives, right? Well, I believe it is lifestyle itself that makes the difference, thus informing how the time-consuming elements of dandyism can seem. Getting dressed every day may take a bit longer than Mr. Jeans-and-T-Shirt, but I leave the house inspired which is important to me. I am also almost never underdressed for any occasion. Now if you go with my definition of a dandy as a well rounded “ultimate gentleman”, there is no fast paced world where that isn’t feasible.
Q. You’ve said in the past that menswear hasn’t changed in years and that it’s now the details that make the difference. Why do you think menswear has remained the same for so long?
A. It’s true that the construction of classic menswear items – the tailored shirt, the tie, the suit – haven’t really changed. I think that is largely because men overall are focused on function and aren’t usually peacocks. Most men wear a suit for work and weddings. Why should these items be innovated further? Of course, there are great designers who have endeavored to re-imagine menswear but seldom do those changes permeate society at large. Also, the post-1950s casualization of fashion stunted any developments in dressing up. I will say that style speaks volumes and has been the biggest development in menswear, especially since Instagram became a thing, many men are seeking out style and making it a prominent ingredient in how they dress. I don’t think anyone is complaining about that.
Years ago, it was considered very “dandy” to wear a flower in your lapel.
Q. How do you think the perception of Dandyism has changed, with more and more men making a bigger effort with their appearance in recent years?
A. Well, I still think the word Dandyism isn’t widely known. People just think it’s “different” but there are many men who see it as a viable lifestyle option. Thanks to social media and books like “I Am Dandy” and “We Are Dandy” men have more examples of dressing dandy.
Q. What would you like to see more of in menswear?
A. Real shirt collars. I understand that if you aren’t wearing a tie and you’re going for a minimalist trend that a stubby point collar works, I’m just over it.
Q. How do you incorporate the Dandy lifestyle into projects when working with brands whose aesthetic is more modern?
A. Making dandyism work for modern brands is all about styling. Years ago, it was considered very “dandy” to wear a flower in your lapel. Since the rebirth of classic menswear (or the rise of modern menswear), so many guys are doing it that it’s almost commonplace. I’m sure it was someone’s personal style that helped certain brands to incorporate that detail into their aesthetic. Similarly, subtle styling additions can be made to fit my lifestyle into a company’s branding. Luckily, most of the brands I work with connect with my unique style rather than wanting to dumb it down. I was in this past Summer’s Barney’s New York Campaign, shot by Bruce Weber which was all about unique people who were quintessentially New York, which is a big part of my aesthetic and lifestyle. The fact is that I’m pretty versatile and my style ranges from the Gilded Age to the 1930’s, to some more modern aesthetics. It’s all about how you wear it.
Q. Where do you get your inspiration?
A. I mostly get my inspiration from historic photos, old movies and the campaigns of certain brands. It also helps to have really well-dressed friends. My peers always give me pause with their sartorial ideas. The fact is, inspiration is everywhere, you just have to be open to it.
Q. What can we expect to see from Dandy Wellington in the coming months?
A. As I’m writing this, I’m in Australia where I am rejoining the cast of Club Swizzle for a 2 month run at the Sydney Opera House. When I get back to New York, I hope to write and record more original music, and continue to collaborate with artists there and abroad.
Q. If you could give one piece of dandy-inspired advice to the modern man, what would it be?
A. Know your history. You can never learn too much. Never underestimate a tailored jacket, it can be the difference between looking good and looking great. A jacket that fits properly in the shoulders, chest and waist is a game changer. From there, I would say be bold. For me, modern clothing has become synonymous with the mundane. Monochromatic and casual clothes have flooded the market. Most people wear the most boring things. I’d rather wear a bed of flowers.