For reasons that will become apparent to viewers of BBC2 next year, I have spent much time these last few weeks dressed up in three-piece suits with accoutrements of braces, collar-studs, cuff-links, tie-pins, gloves and hats; and the effect has been to make directors and others involved in the production say “You’re looking very dapper today, Brandon!” or “Wow, you look incredibly dapper!” – not just once but on a practically daily basis.
They mean it as a compliment, no doubt, but it does not feel like a compliment when you are on the receiving end of it. Dapper. It’s a funny word. It’s another of those gender-specific adjectives: women can’t be dapper. And when used of men it always suggests a certain attitude. I don’t think I am being paranoid when I say it carries a whiff of condescension. (Would anyone tell an Emperor, for instance, that he looked “dapper”?) To me it suggests that someone is self-consciously, almost comically well-dressed, in a departure from their normal appearance; it doesn’t connote admiration, as dashing, elegant, or stylish would. I also think there’s a hint that the dapper man is of small stature (as in the Elvis Costello song “Little Palaces”, where he sings “There’s a dapper little man and he wears a waxed moustache”); and since I am rather small, that particular cap fits.
Am I being over-sensitive? Maybe. But I’ll stop being over-sensitive when people stop calling me dapper.