Gizmodo recently wrote about the fact that no one can quite seem to figure out where the word "dude" came from. The piece links to an Oxford etymologist who has a few theories, most of which are rooted in the mid and late 1890s.
I found an interesting definition of "dude" in the April 26, 1893 Wellsboro Agitator (Wellsboro, Pennsylvania). The article is credited to Robert Graves, and looks like it originally appeared in the Philadelphia North American before being published in other newspapers throughout the U.S.
The word "dude," according to Graves, means an American man who is pretending to be British through his accent and style of dress. Not only that, but dudes have a peculiar style of handshake which Graves describes as "iditotic." President Cleveland, upon meeting a dude, is even quoted as saying that he would never make any man Minister who shook hands like a dude.
Graves explains his definition of a "dude":
A dude in my classification is a man who aspires to social distinction for elegant personal appearance and seeks it through the mediumship of affectation or dress or speech. He is a dude, or something akin to one, who imitates the apparel and pronunciation of words supposed to exist chiefly in some foreign city, notably London. He is a dude who puts on a box coat and buys a large cane and a pair of red shoes and adopts a certain mode of wearing them, this mode being obviously an affectation or imitation. He is a dude who lisps or makes an effort to broaden his "o's" and to lengthen his "a's" or to ape an imaginary artistocracy in any other manner. Washington is full of such dudes.
The article specifically mentions the way in which a "dude" carries his cane and wears his gloves:
One cannot go upon the streets in this town without coming upon hundreds of men who carry their canes in their left hand, grasping the sticks by the middle, never permitting them to touch the ground and swinging them with a certain swing that you recognize without my attempting to describe it. This is only one of the rudiments of dudism. To carry a cane in this manner is an affectation and if a man indulges in this style and adopts no other attribute of dudism he is entitled to be put down as one of the class of whom I am writing.
The writer goes on to explain how a "sensible" man carries his cane:
A sensible, well-balance man carries a cane because it is a cane or a walking stick. He puts it on the ground a part if not all of the time. In other words, he uses it as it was intended to be used and for the purpose for which it was designed. Just as soon as he adopts the plan of carrying it by the middle, never touching the ground with it, he confesses that he is not natural; that he is not using the stick for convenience or for the comfort which almost every man finds in having something in his hand, but for show, for ostentation.
Graves goes on to explain that gloves shouldn't be for show as the dude uses them, but again for practical purposes:
So it is also with the gloves. I was brought up in the country and was there taught by my plain old mother that neither one's handkerchief nor one's gloves should be made an article of display or adornment.
He continues that "one wears gloves in order to keep the hands warm," and insists that "a glove cannot be made an article of display without violation of good taste."
Interestingly, the article goes on to explain that dudes have their own way of shaking hands:
In addition to the forms of affectation which I have mentioned, they shake hands with their fists on a level with their chins, and then don't shake at all, but clasp, press gently and make one upward motion from the elbow joint. Plenty of men who are old enough and otherwise able enough to have better sense indulge this idiotic style of handshake.
The article tells the story of President Grover Cleveland, who was apparently surprised by a dude who arrived at the White House as a candidate for a foreign minister position:
A few weeks ago we had here a rather enjoyable story of a candidate for appointment as a foreign Minister who went up to the White House and greeted Mr. Cleveland with one of those shakes and was immediately afterward given the shake himself. He has gone home -- oddly enough he lives in the West -- to meditate upon Mr. Cleveland's decisive commentary that he would "never send as Minister from this country a man who shook hands like a dude."