Dude!

Berry Wall (1860-1940) was known as King of the Dudes.

His father and grandfather each left him more than $1 million between his 18th and 22nd birthdays, which enabled a certain grandeur. Thereafter, Wall never drank water – only champagne – and sported a walrus mustache, gleaming monocle, and high, stiff collars encircled by one of his 5,000 flamboyant neckties. Wall eventually owned a wardrobe of 500 outfits, useful for someone who completely changed his clothing at least six times daily.

Unlike the classic dandy Beau Brummell, who aspired to quiet sartorial perfection, Wall liked color, in not only his neckties but his waistcoats of tropical pattern, loud checked suits, lavender spats, and at least one outfit described as “an amazement of tweeds.” His justification: “People should wear what suits them.”

image

One sultry August evening in Saratoga, Wall escorted a pretty girl to a ball at the Grand Union Hotel while wearing what was the first dinner jacket publicly seen in the Americas. An incandescent manager immediately ordered him off the floor. He was only readmitted after he went to his room and changed into an acceptable evening coat with tails.

how to fold a dinner jacket napkin

Wall became famous after meeting Blakely Hall, a reporter hungry for good copy. Thereafter, every week or so, Hall’s articles publicizing Wall’s adventures in clothing appeared in newspapers across the country. Then one of Hall’s competitors set up a rival, actor Robert “Bob” Hilliard, another flashy dresser. Thus began the Battle of the Dudes, in which each sought to eclipse the other in sartorial extremes. According to the Times, Wall finally won when, during the Great Blizzard of 1888, he strode into the Hoffman House bar clad in gleaming boots of black patent leather that went to his hips.

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Wall won another contest in Saratoga when daredevil financier John “Bet-A-Million” Gates wagered that he could not wear 40 changes of clothes between breakfast and dinner. On the appointed day, Wall repeatedly appeared at the racetrack in one flashy ensemble after another until, exhausted but victorious, he at last entered the ballroom of the United States Hotel in faultless evening attire to wild applause.

John Bet-a-Million Gates

Wall and his wife were famous members of the French social elite, with a society that included the Duchess of Windsor, the Grand Duke Dimitri, the Aga Khan and ex-king Nicholas of Montenegro, whom Wall called a “magnificent old darling”.

Magnificent Old Darling

They lived with their chow dog Chi-Chi in the Hotel Meurice, where he had his signature “spread eagle” collar shirts and cravats custom-made for both himself and his dog: Wall always dined at the Ritz with his dog, whose collars and ties were made by Charvet in the same style and fabric as his master’s.

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Wall ascribed his longevity to having nothing to do with physicians, claiming: “There are more old drunkards than there are old doctors.” His self-indulgent life brought him great happiness, and he remained a fixture of fashionable life, whether in Paris, Deauville, Biarritz, or Aix-les-Bains, until his death in Monte Carlo on May 5, 1940. Wall’s timing was impeccable: He left only $12,608, having squandered nearly every cent on pleasure.

Published in: on October 5, 2010 at 7:12 am  Comments (39)  
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39 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Change clothes 6 times a day???!!!

    If i had all that money i would buy the government, change the laws and allow people to walk around naked….everywhere!

    • So you’re a nudist Saby? Must be delightful for your friends 🙂

  2. Wow, this guy was the proto douche bag wasn’t he.

    • Oh I don’t know Alex, I rather like these old eccentrics

  3. “Squandered every cent on pleasure” seems like a kind of oxymoron to me, but still I am impressed with the Dude’s style (not to mention his water deprived liver!)

    • That’s the way I want to go… squandering

  4. What a star! The zillionaires I hate are those who never spend a bean!

    • Yes, if you’ve got it you should spread it around in style.

  5. I wonder how eccentric I would be if I had millions to squander? Perhaps in another life!

    • Hey jimmy – where’s your blog link?

  6. Awesome characters, as usual!

    • My favourite is the magnificent old darling

  7. it is my hope that my last check is returned for ‘insufficient funds’. and perhaps i should spend more money on Mr. Pickles’ wardrobe… he has a black tie, but maybe needs a smoking jacket…

    • I’d LOVE to see Mr Pickles in a smoking jacket! Red velvet and quilted perhaps.

  8. King of the Dudes??? You might have some Lebowski fans who complain about that title.

    • But Berry had the title 100 years before Lebowski – I think it can be shared around now

  9. Fantabulous tales, Nurse. I was thrilled by the inclusion of a picture of a snood. It’s a word I long to place on the Scrabble board.

    • I think it’s time they came back into fashion

  10. Too much clothes changing for me. I wonder if walrus mustaches will come back in vogue before the mullet.

    • I’ve seen quite a few mullets on the street lately – think they’ve beaten the walrus moustache hands down

  11. Gray free-fall jumpsuits with lots of zipper pockets are best.

    • Best for what? Robbing banks?

  12. That’s the problem with squandering… you’ll never be able to depart from this mortal coil without either blowing all your money too early or leaving a chunk left over. Unless there’s suicide or arranged murder, but that’s cheating.

    • Yeah at some point the squandering has to change to squirrelling

  13. I wish I could learn the skill of squander ….. it always looks a lot of fun ….. *sigh*

    • Luckily TG is on hand to prevent you from upskilling in that direction

  14. I can hear Dion singing “they call me the squanderer, the squanderer….”

    5,000 ties? I thought I was doing well with over 100!

    • Ever photograph the entire collection Jams? Or maybe do a series… all the blues followed by all the greens then the oranges…..

  15. I’ll bet one actress does more than 40 changes of clothes during a day of taping “Gossip Girl”.

  16. “An amazement of tweeds” just conjures up a riot of colorful clothing.

    Love the boots!

    • I love those boots too Nicole!

      • I could totally see you rocking those boots, NM!

  17. You see, he’s shaking hands…..with a dog…..

  18. Berry Wall is Malach trust me

  19. Seriously, the secret to a long life is drinking, laughter, and dogs.

  20. I wonder if this man inspired some of todays more flamboyant fashion designers. I can’t imagine he never once drank water. It’s impossible to live without it.

  21. Matching custom clothes for a pet, eh? Now you’re just giving me ideas.

  22. Wow. These are great pictures and profiles. I would truly like to include them in my sites if you’re ok by it.


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