Wednesday 3 July 2013

Put A Feather In His Cap And Called It Macaroni! Excuse Me?

Yankee Doodle was a song we sang as children, galloping around wildly as if we were on ponies. We would always collapse on the floor in a heap of giggles when it came to the feather called Macaroni. What? Our parents couldn't explain so it always remained a mystery. Had we misheard? Was it a joke? Then I came across an article in History Today (Volume: 28 Issue: 7 1978) which appeared to explain all. Macaroni came into use in the early 1760s. In 1764 Horace Walpole explained to the Earl of Hertford that the Macaronis were a club, which is composed of all the travelled young men who wear long curls and spying-glasses; he attributed their extreme fashions to the wealth brought back from India. The origins of the term were more fully explained in the Town and Country Magazine for March 1772, when the craze was at its height: The Italians are extremely fond of a dish they call Macaroni, composed of a kind of paste; and, as they consider this as the summum bonum of all good eating, so they figuratively call everything they think elegant and uncommon Macaroni. Our young travellers, who generally catch the follies of the countries they visit, judged that the tide of Macaroni was very applicable to a clever fellow; and accordingly they instituted a club under this denomination, the members of which were supposed to be the standards of taste in polite learning, the fine arts and the genteel sciences; and fashion, amongst the other constituent parts of taste, became an object of their attention. But they soon proved, they had very little claim to any distinction, except in their external appearance.
Throughout the 18th century the bright silk fabrics and styles of clothing that were most admired came from abroad - particularly from France and Italy. Wigs were dressed very high on the head. All these sartorial extremes were adopted by the Macaronis. However, all the spending on fashion led to ruin and the Macaronis became objects of derision. Their style, too, was plagiarized by the lower class chavs which was the ultimate kiss of death for its upper class followers and so it was dropped almost as quickly as it had been adopted. Such is fashion always. But for a short while, at least, Yankee Doodle and his feather were the height - in more ways than one - of fashion.

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