Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a man they called the King of Dudes.
Not “dude” in the sense that we use the word today - the King would certainly have been appalled by Bill S. Preston, Esq., and "Ted" Theodore Logan. Back in the 1800s, “dude” referred to a man who preferred to dress in a rather eccentric manner.
The King’s name was Evander Berry Wall and he was quite the dude indeed. Having inherited millions in his late teens and early twenties, Wall wore only the best clothes, which is to say the finest and the loudest. He drank champagne almost exclusively and changed clothes about six times a day. That is, except for the time a financier friend bet Wall he couldn’t change clothes 40 times between breakfast and dinner. Guess who won the bet? It probably wasn’t even challenging, considering the fact that Wall owned an estimated 500 pairs of pants and 5,000+ ties.
In 1888, another well-dressed man dared to suggest that perhaps he had a claim on the title of finest-attired man in New York. Bob Hilliard had a penchant for creative dress as well, and a duel of the dandies was scheduled. Some reports suggest that Wall won the so-called Battle of the Dudes by boldly striding into New York City's Hoffman House bar wearing patent leather boots that went all the way to his hips. Other reports suggest it was actually Hilliard who donned the boots.
When the King passed away in 1940, he left just $12,000 in his bank account, having spent his fortune on living large.
Curious as to what dude attire may have looked like? Check out this detailed description from the New York Times, 1902:
“It is a large gray shepherd plaid check, reminding one of the old-fashioned Paisley shawl. The trousers were extremely wide but tapered at the ankle. They were turned up several inches to display white spats and highly varnished patent leather boots. But the crowning glory of the get-up was a dust coat of reddish Havana brown, an extraordinary shade for suiting. A colored shirt, all-around collar, bright red carnation-hued tie, the red shading into purple. The smallest of low-crowned “dinky” brown derby hats completed the outfit.”