Dita von Teese on the eternal allure of a well-dressed gentleman

Editor’s Note: Dita Von Teese is a burlesque performer, model and author. This is an edited excerpt from “We Are Dandy: The Elegant Gentleman around the World,” published by Gestalten.

CNN  — 

Call them swells, fops, boulevardiers, bon vivants, men about town. But do not for a minute dismiss dandies as layabouts.

It involves great diligence and consideration to pull this off day after day. To be a dandy at the level that these men practice is nothing short of an art form. One cannot achieve this height of style without intelligence and purpose behind it.

These men are transgressing against contemporary life: they are time travelers cherry-picking embellishments and essentials from another epoch or three, tripping past periods fantastic on a journey to a more authentic self. I know all about this from my own experience.

I also know it takes bravery to dress like this, to go out in the world and be repeatedly asked by strangers “What’s the occasion?”; to be catcalled “Wake up, it ain’t 1950!”; or to hear whispers behind my back (some even accusing me of posing as Dita Von Teese!)

Defustel Ndjoko photographed in New York

I empathize with the boldness and commitment to the life and style these rare birds dubbed dandies have devoted themselves to sharing with the world – whether that world is receptive or not.

Appearance is not always about being accepted or embraced. Something deeper is materializing. The reasons are as varied as there are fingerprints, of course, and, possibly no more so when it comes to the eccentric creature.

Given the circumstances so many of the men here are facing, their triumphs reveal how genuinely comfortable they are with their body and spirit, with their place in this world, with all its sticks and stones.

It’s not always easy to live on your own terms. I know this, too. But it would hurt more to spend our time compromising our ideals, our dreams, and our integrity.

Luca Lanzoni photographed near Milan, Italy

These individuals don’t expend energies wishing they could look like other men. So they might covet a trinket brandished by another dandy. In this case, coveting is not the same as imitation, and who can blame an aesthete who collects? Certainly, not me.

They navigate, even survive, life by way of their creative gifts, their intelligence and, more often than not, a generosity of spirit.

Dandyism is not about a trust fund. It’s about privilege, alright – but one of insight, effort, tenacity … style.

Take heed in the well-said wisdom expressed by one of the well-dressed gents in this volume, that of Loux the Vintage Guru of Nambia:

“You can sleep in a shack; you can sleep under a bridge – but you can still look smart.”

Words to live by! Now go out and live.

“We Are Dandy: The Elegant Gentleman around the World,” published by Gestalten, is out now.