Bradley Bordiss, a businessman and academic, is a self-confessed dandy. Today he looks like a piece of natural mountainside, tricked out in a brown and olive-green cashmere/wool three-piece suit and carrying a matching umbrella.
Great dandies never forget that moment in life when their true vocation was revealed.
“When I was six I had to go to a wedding and my mother bought me a suit. As soon as I put it on I felt a different person, confident and powerful,” he says.
He insists his dressing is just a case of encouraging refinement and class. “My wife Odile (who comes from the Congo) dresses in designer labels so why should I not look good? It fits my fantasy and makes me feel myself”.
Do people laugh at you? “At a conference in Dar es Salaam, a very earnest English banker said, “Why are you wearing a suit in 120 degrees heat?”. I said to him “Because I am a ponce”. There was a pause and then he said, “Does ponce mean in South Africa what it means in England?”.
Although he goes for “ton”, that fugitive French word employed only by the very smart, he believes one should not be seen to be pretentious. “One should always be able to laugh at oneself”. Bordiss has a wild laugh and slaps his thighs at the same time.
In South Africa, where neon leisurewear rules, finding the right clothes takes sweat and a tailor. “See this jacket I am wearing? The fabric comes from Bbellamy & Bbellamy in Muizenberg. It was the last roll from a local factory that closed down. “I took the fabric to my tailor in Jarvis Street and gave it to him along with a Downton Abbey DVD and said, “I want you to watch the video and pay special attention to what Lord Grantham wears during the day. I want you to make one exactly the same.” And voila, this is what I got”.
He opens his jacket to show a plaid, five-button waistcoat, then lifts his waistcoat to reveal braces that match his tie. “The braces must match the tie, of course. Double cuffs go without saying.” He always accompanies his outfits with a suitable hat – homburg, fedora or boater.
Being a dandy is not without its hazards. “I was driving up the N2 the other day, wearing cream pants, pale blue blazer, silk handkerchief and boater. It took a while but I slowly realized there was a poo protest up ahead, my God, and I was in an open car. I did a U-turn and drove straight across the middle island.”
When Boridiss was 40 he thought he would wear hats. “At 50 I am going for cravats and then at 60 it will be walking sticks.”
The dandy’s enemy is casualisation. They dream of picketing dress-down Fridays. Their clothes are often a statement against shopping mall aesthetics, sloppy T-shirts and baggy shorts.
Bordiss’s particular loathing is K-Way “adventure” clothes. “Those cargo pants with zips and pockets and hidden pouches – you’re doing the shopping, not climbing the Matterhorn! They are unforgivable in a sophisticated urban environment.” Dandyism is misunderstood. The dandy mujahedeen is small but vociferous. The idea is not to look like a gay sorcerer’s apprentice but to be seriously well upholstered in good fabrics.
Beau Brummel invented the suit in the early 19th century to get away from regency foppishness – embroidered coats, lace ruffles and silk stockings. He was rigid, not extravagant; he loved well-made dark cloth and perfect linen, and took extreme effort to always look immaculate.
As Bordiss says, “Temperament and attitude to life are as important as what you wear.”
The dandy’s badge item is the three-piece suit. “When I was last in England,” Bordiss tells me, “I ran into a group of people who were parading a placard that read, “Give the three-piece suit
Fernand Blanchard is a car guard at Bayview Centre in Table View. He takes his job very seriously and is proud to call himself a car guard. He is also an award-winning sapeur (African Nations Cup 2013) – a member of the global Congolese fashion cult known as La Sape, with its complex history of war and displacement. La Sape arose from the disenchantment and loss felt by soldiers who returned to Congo after fighting for France in the First World War.
Years ago I interviewed Congolese singer Papa Wemba who is worshipped as the king of La Sape. In the grey of a London day he shone like the setting sun in a plumage of fashionable labels and Jean-Paul Gaultier sunglasses, a man who epitomized the movement’s reliance on image.
It is Blanchard’s day off and he has made the trip to town dressed immaculately for a day in the city and spiced with Givenchy Pour Homme. He lives in one room with his girlfriend and five-year old son. His income is small and, although many sapeurs wear signature labels, he stretches his chic look and chain-store clothes with pricey accessories like ostrich leather shoes and a Versace checked scarf.
“It is not just about ’ow you dress, it is ‘ow you are as a person, it is fantastique, this sapeur. I am very proud of this distinction. I cannot understand these South African men, they are looking so bad. It is not, ‘ow do you say, it is not dignified. And they are rich. They ‘ave the money.”
He lifts his trouser leg with the accomplished ease of a runway model to show a silk sock. “It is secret for me, very expensive socks but only I know.” A sapeur may add a silk or embroidered lining to a jacket that only he knows about.
For Blanchard, it all started in 1979 in his home town of Brazzaville, Congo.
“You know, there was war all around between the north and south and there is no more soccer and the clothes, they make me feel better. My friends are doing it and I also. It is the most important thing for me to look good.
“There are clubs for les sapeurs and if you go there you must dress good and if you look nice you can get many compliments – and even girls. I ‘ave one suit in orange and one suit in pink.”
Lin Sampson is a South African columnist who writes regularly for the Sunday Times magazine LifeStyle. She has also been published by Style, Femina and Fair Lady, the London Sunday Times, The Spectator, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent.