05 August 2009

Men: The Macaronis

By Erastes

Yankee Doodle came to London, riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his cap and called it Macaroni.

When I was a child, I used to sing this song, thinking that Yankee Doodle either called his feather, his cap, or his pony Macaroni. It was a subject of some debate among the kids, at some time or other.

The truth is rather blurred in myth. Popular misconception says that it's a song by the English jeering at the unsophisticated colonial Americans, but this verse of the rather long song wasn't added until the mid-19th century. Another theory is that it refers to Oliver Cromwell--and comes from an almost identical stanza in a song called "Roundheads and Cavaliers."

However, whichever is true, a macaroni was a slang term denoting a fop, but it's even more than that.

A macaroni, or maccaroni, was a man of fashion; in fact he was what we'd refer to today as a fashion victim. The sort of person who buys Zandra Rhodes or wears tinfoil dresses just because they are the hot fashion item. They were famous for going too far in their slavish devotion to looking good, and even though men were--in centuries before our own--much more decorative than they are today, the macaronis took it twenty stages further, becoming so outrageous in their display that they became a bit of a laughing stock for being so effeminate that it was often difficult to tell their sex.

An informal club, "The Macaroni Club," was formed, and Horace Walpole wrote to a friend in 1764: "The Macaroni Club, which is composed of all the traveled young men who wear long curls and spying-glasses."

Naturally, it was the rich men who followed the fashion, and after Charles II's restoration, following years of Puritan repression, fashion exploded once more, travel became fashionable, men started to do The Grand Tour, and wigs proliferated in fashionable circles becoming ridiculously huge by the late 1600s. So much so that most older men became more conservative in their wig taste, leading to the youthful revolution that was the Macaronis.

Their clothes were so outrageous and restrictive: tightly-fitting coats and short waistcoats with enormous buttons, and exquisitely thin shoes with huge buckles of silver or gold--so thin that they even adopted a particular mincing gait. Together with the habit of carrying nosegays, they were not widely accepted by other gentlemen of the day and were continually lampooned in the press.

Perhaps the first real gender benders, in fact.