originally published May 8, 2014
As soon as I am catapulted to the pinnacle of my fame (which should be any day now I’m sure), I fear that the omnipresent gaggle of “star analysts”, “celeb-watchers” and “yammering space-fillers” will be particularly cruel when they analyze my sense of style. I am intentionally one of the most tedious dressers I know, opting for a rotating selection of blue jeans, grey socks and non-descript, logo-less T-shirts. I dress for comfort and convenience, with a rickety line in the sand that keeps me clear of anything stained or torn. Usually.
I can appreciate nice-looking fashion, to a point. I simply have no desire to strain the limits of my bank account to impress others, nor am I a fit for the Goodwill-ultra-value hipster wear. Years of sampling bacon and beer (for research, of course) has led to a modest expansion of my mid-section, so when I dress in an antiquated cardigan and form-fitting pant-wear I look less stylish and more like I should be selling used office furniture from the back of a van.
Perhaps I should expand my horizons and seek out a new look. My wife – who always looks better than me, though I blame nature for that one – has expressed a handsome disdain for my monotonous frockery, and she applauds fiercely when I deign to sport something with a subtle whiff of snazz when we go somewhere nice. It might be time for a drastic leap into the world of the macaroni.
Before there were metrosexuals, before flamboyance became a cocktail for the masses, there was the macaroni. These were young men, hungry to wrap their tendrils around the extremities of weirdness with no shame about flaunting it all to the public. Years ago (and I relish the opportunity to dip back into when this project was in the double-digits) I wrote of the Grand Tour, a rite of passage among northern European men in the 18th century. These men would venture into the cradle of art and culture – through Spain, Italy, Greece, and faraway locales that most Englishmen would never see. This is where it all began.
Many of these well-traveled Brits developed a fondness for macaroni, a food that was virtually unheard of among the unwashed masses. To know the glory of macaroni became a symbol of elitism; this led to the expression “very macaroni” as a means of describing something that was rather fashionable or trendy. Belonging to the so-called Macaroni Club simply meant you were hip and rich enough to be willing to go out in public looking like this:
The gentleman on the right is not actually attacking the other guy. It was part of the macaroni subculture to perch a small hat atop your tall powdered wig, such that you had to remove it with a sword. It was also part of the jive to wear lots of frills, slender, form-fitting tights (the 18th-century equivalent of skinny jeans) and to speak in an outlandishly affected manner. There is an element of androgyny at work in the macaroni lifestyle, though there should be no assumptions of a correlation with homosexuality – this was simply haute couture at its weirdest.
If anything, the macaroni is an evolution of the British ‘fop’, which first showed up on paper in 1440. A fop is a vain over-dresser, whose meticulous attention to appearance (often featuring French designs back then) was downright ridiculous. The fop became a stock character in English comedies. Not a well-revered one though, particularly if we judge it by the word’s lone appearance in Shakespeare: “He, like a Fop & Ass must be making himself a public laughing-stock.” (from King Lear)
The macaronis were undoubtedly ridiculed also, but perhaps the relative briefness of the fad kept them from becoming schtick. But then there’s that song…
British doctor Richard Shuckburgh wrote the lyrics to the song “Yankee Doodle” just before the Revolutionary War had raised its musky curtain in the colonies. The lyrics intended to mock the scruffy Americans, positing that they were naïve enough to believe that all one needed to do was stick a feather in one’s cap in order to be a macaroni. That’s right – this song, which somehow became intertwined with American patriotism, was nothing more than the British mocking the Yankee fashion sense. Because the Americans wouldn’t dress like silly, frilly hipster Marge Simpson-dudes.
By the end of the century, a macaroni likely appeared as out-of-place and misguided as someone sporting loud plaid bellbottoms and a neck-slung spoon in the late 1990’s. The Grand Tour would play out as a getaway for the affluent through the mid-19th century, but it was no longer fashionable to come back sporting such garish decadence all over one’s self. It was time to make room for the dandy.
The dandy was an evolution of the macaroni, boasting a deliberately elaborate fashion voice but without the necessary connection to bouffant wiggery and flamboyant mannerisms. A dandy is a gentleman, not a spectacle, an intentional homage to the uppercrust. Also… dude-corsets. That was a thing. The idea of suffocating my girth with a corset runs precisely opposite to my present, laissez-faire fashion choices. It ain’t happening.
But the dandy was more than a sharp dresser. He was a political statement; the specific old-schooly appearance was a call-back to the aristocratic sphere of the feudal or pre-industrial age. The western world in the 1800s was awash with egalitarianism and the societal boogie of the industrial revolution. The dandy was not necessarily opposing progress – he merely suggested that the retro notion of being an aristocrat was kind of cool.
The epitome of British dandyism was a guy named George Bryan “Beau” Brummell, a man who could arguably be considered one of the first ‘celebutants’ in history. He was buddies with the Prince of Wales, and after serving some years in the military (and inheriting a healthy clothing budget from his dad), he became the picture of high society. He went around wigless before it was fashionable to do so, and represented the dandy so exquisitely his fame carried on long after he died.
I have made it a mission to never become such a fashion icon, and so far I’m doing quite well. Maybe the plain look works best for me; maybe if I’m to make a bold physical statement I should do something unique, like grow my nostril-hair into dreadlocks or something. In the meantime I’ll continue to wear nothing bedazzled, I’ll continue to own zero “Keep Calm And…” shirts (nor will I sport a t-shirt that advises “Frankie Sez Relax”), and I’ll do my best to minimize the visible mustard stains, at least for formal occasions.