In the popular press of the 1880s and 1890s, "dude" was a new word for "dandy" – an extremely well-dressed male, a man who paid particular importance to how he appeared. The café society and Bright Young Things of the late 1800s and early 1900s were populated with dudes. Young men of leisure vied to show off their wardrobes. The best known of this type is probably Evander Berry Wall, who was dubbed "King of the Dudes" in 1880s New York and maintained a reputation for sartorial splendor all his life. This version of the word is still in occasional use in American slang, as in the phrase "all duded up" for getting dressed in fancy clothes.
A variation of this was a well-dressed man who is unfamiliar with life outside a large city. In The Home and Farm Manual (1883), author Jonathan Periam used the term "dude" several times to denote an ill-bred and ignorant, but ostentatious, man from the city.
The implication of an individual who is unfamiliar with the demands of life outside of urban settings gave rise to the definition of dude as a city slicker, or "an Easterner in the West." Thus "dude" was used to describe the wealthy men of the rustic western expansion of the United States during the 19th century by German settlers of the American Old East. This use is reflected in the dude ranch, a guest ranch catering to urbanites seeking more rural experiences. Dude ranches began to appear in the American West in the early 20th century, for wealthy Easterners who came to experience the "cowboy life." The implicit contrast is with those persons accustomed to a given frontier, agricultural, mining, or other rural setting. This usage was still in use in the 1950s in America, as a word for a tourist – of either gender – who attempts to dress like the local culture but fails.
The term was also used as a job description, such as "bush hook dude" as a position on a railroad in the 1880s. For an example, see the Stampede Tunnel.
In the early 1960s, dude became prominent in surfer culture as a synonym of "guy" or "fella". The female equivalent, which is used less often, is "dudette" or "dudess", although dude is also used as a unisex term. This more general meaning of dude started creeping into the mainstream in the mid-1970s. Dude is generally used informally to address someone (“Dude, I’m glad you finally called”) or refer to another person (“That dude is stealing my car”). Some usages in mainly American pop culture have contributed to the spread of this use; for example, see the 2000 comedy film Dude, Where's My Car? and the examples in the next section.
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