- Queer Dandy Style:The Cultural Politics of Tim Gunn's Asexuality
It really is Fashion that has killed dandyism.—Roland Barthes, The Language of Fashion
If at first you don't succeed, failure may be your style—Quentin Crisp, Sunday Correspondent Magazine
Dandyism is not dead. Contrary to Roland Barthes's assertion, quoted above, that fashion killed dandyism, dandyism lives on as it shape-shifts over time and remakes itself in different historical contexts. Nearly impossible to define, dandyism is an aesthetic and life philosophy; it is a lifestyle, and a queer one at that. In Dandyism, or The Anatomy of Dandyism, as it is sometimes translated, novelist and critic Jules Barbey D'Aurevilly reminds us that dandyism goes beyond a manner of dress and continually elides definition: "Dandyism is almost as difficult a thing to describe as it is to define. Those who see things only from a narrow point of view have imagined it to be especially the art of dress, a bold and felicitous dictatorship in the matter of clothes and exterior elegance. That it most certainly is, but much more besides. Dandyism is a complete theory of life and its material is not its only side. It is a way of existing, made up entirely of shades" (D'Aurevilly 1988, 31). In its various shades of instantiation, dandyism may even be perceived as a queer style, one that resists definition, blurs boundaries, and specifically plays with gender and its associations with sexuality. While many scholars have argued that queer expressions of gender do not necessarily correlate with homosexual desire, today, the sexuality of genderqueer dandies is often speculated on and interpreted as gay, [End Page 226] lesbian, or bisexual. In some cases, scholars of dandyism have reminded us that despite his effeminacy, the dandy male is indeed heterosexual. What is often missing from these readings is the possibility of the dandy as celibate or asexual.1
Although there is a historical association between the male dandy and a disinterest in sex, today's oft-hypersexualized conception of queerness tends to eclipse that possibility when we look at the dandy of the contemporary moment. For example, Tim Gunn, a revered gay American fashion icon, continues to shock fans and the blogosphere with his admission of nearly thirty years of celibacy and his self-identification as asexual. In this essay, I make the case that Gunn embodies the aesthetic and persona of the contemporary dandy, thus supporting the idea that dandyism is indeed still alive and, further, that today's dandy has something to teach us about masculinity and the ways in which sexual categories are constructed around gender presentation and normative expectations of sexual desire and attraction.
Monica Miller, a scholar in African American cultural studies, suggests that "dandies must choose the vocation, must commit to a study of the fashions that define them and an examination of the trends around which they can continually redefine themselves" (2009, 8). As former faculty and chair of the fashion design program at Parsons School of Design, author of two books on style, hit television personality of Project Runway fame, and host of his own makeover show, no other popular American figure today seems more committed to the vocation and study of fashion than Tim Gunn. Through this demonstrated commitment, along with his "redeployment of clothing, gesture, and wit," to confuse constructions and assumptions of gender and sexuality (Miller 2009, 5), I read Tim Gunn as the quintessential contemporary "pop" dandy figure. Both in his television persona and his writings, Gunn performs a style of the new millennial dandy: he is finely dressed, astute, well mannered, proper, public, and quite fashionable. He revives the asexual history of the dandy through his own coming out as "sort of asexual" and cataloging of twenty-nine years of celibacy, all while maintaining his gay identity. To be clear, I am not interested in presenting Gunn as a figurehead of any type of movement, nor am I concerned with an analysis of his person. Instead, I am invested in how the spectacle of Tim Gunn lends us tools for analyzing the percussive effects of a dandy style in terms of...