We’ve already dipped into Basil Woon’s 1926 book The Paris that’s not in the Guide Books. The title is a legacy of the post-World War I era when favourable exchange rates attracted Americans in large numbers to Paris, one of the first waves of intercontinental tourism. The exclusivity promised by the book tells of the anxiety of a certain subset of that group who sought to distinguish themselves as travellers rather than tourists, with the exalted understanding and insider’s perspective that implied. The legacy of Woon’s book remains in any broadsheet travel article which promises to entice you off the beaten track.
Our previous look at Woon captured bon vivant Boni de Castellane in his decorous decline. Elsewhere in the book the author goes to the races and finds another aged clotheshorse:
Standing under the big chestnut tree in front of the private stand you are sure to see Berry Wall, with the collar, the tie and the square gray hat that have made him a traditional figure on both sides of the Atlantic for half a century. The former “King of the Dandies” is still supreme in his own particular line. He wears exactly the same sartorial get-up now that he wore on Fifth Avenue thirty years ago.
He is a very kindly old man who has a ready smile and greetings for friends and acquaintances. I doubt if anyone has ever heard Berry Wall utter a discourteous word. He is the last – the very last – of the old school, a grand old ghost from the days where gentlemen drove coaches down Fifth Avenue; he has his own particular niche in society, and when he dies there will be nobody to take his place.
Evander Berry Wall was never, in fact, “King of the Dandies”, rather he ruled over the Dudes, who trafficked in a brash New World retelling of dandyism in the late 19th century. They practised stunt dressing as an end in itself, the flashier the better. Even Boni de Castellane at the height of the Belle Époque was restrained compared to the Gilded Age extravagance of the Dudes. The main picture above shows Berry Wall triumphant after betting that he could change 40 times between breakfast and dinner. Although it lay claim to greater refinement, Berry Wall’s wardrobe was an expression of conspicuous consumption no less excessive than a Diamond Jim Brady brunch.