The Macaroni, The Dandy and Gender Identity

A short explanation before we get started: the term macaroni used in this article is not referring to the Italian pasta, but is related to it. Macaroni, when used in mens fashions, refers to a mid-18th century trend where young men started dressing in the most epicene (androgynous, effeminate) and affected style. They were the metrosexuals of their day. You can find many good examples in fashion plates from that period:

The Macaroni Painter, or Billy Dimple Sitting for his Picture

"The Macaroni Painter, or Billy Dimple Sitting for his Picture"

This trend started with young British aristocrats returning from the Grand Tour (a subject for another time) and the look got its name from the recent excitement around Italian pasta, specifically macaroni. All things uber-contemporary were called macaroni (think Paris Hilton‘s abuse of the word, ‘hot’ and you get the picture.)

The Polite Macaroni presenting a Nosegay to Miss Blossom

"The Polite Macaroni presenting a Nosegay to Miss Blossom" - Delicate Flowers from a Delicate Flower

This trend of dressing more and more garish and adopting various female identified clothing styles increased in popularity among the very rich. And it created a style among wealthy young men that shared the delicate sensibility of women’s fashion of the period.

The Macaroni - The Height of Androgenous Mens Fashion

The Macaroni - The Height of Androgynous Mens Fashion, Tee Hee Hee!

It was the arrival of Mr. Beau Brummel‘s fashion sense that this ridiculous manner of male dress changed. In appreciation I would whole-heartedly support a movement for the canonization of Brummel in the Church of England. Or at least recognition with his own day of prayer (He is most certainly my patron saint of Male Dressing.)

Beau Brummel - Patron Saint of Male Dress

Beau Brummel - Patron Saint of Male Dress

The artifice of the macaroni was an attempt by aristocratic young men (and young men who aspired to be aristocrats) of the time to prove their worldliness in order to affirm their right to the luxury their station provided them. Yet, this only served to demonstrate their disconnection with the wider world; of the coming social and political changes that were about to shatter the aristocratic structure the macaroni so desperately wished to display in their foppish dress.

In counterpoint to this Beau Brummel embraced a masculine look. Gone were the breeches, powdered wigs and all too much lace replaced with trousers, washed flowing hair and silk cravats. The rise of the Dandy was a movement of the middle-class gentleman expressing their masculinity and their disdain for the ridiculous style of upper classes in dress. They hadn’t the money or privilege, but the Dandy had his sense of style with which to shame the silly macaronies.

I make this distinction because all too often a man who dresses well is carelessly refered to as a fop, or as a dandy with the connotation of the fop. This is a terrible misuse of language and blurs the trend I see emerging. The modern Dandy is the masculine answer to the prevalence of the metrosexual look among men.

Men, instead of dressing in a style that teenagers consider ‘cool’  well into your adult years or engaging in the drab and genderless metrosexual look I invite you embrace the Dandy. You’ll thank me for it.

How Not to Dress

Metrosexual? - No. Regressed Man Child? - No.

Steve McQueen Dressing Like a Grown Man

The Cultured Dandy - A Most Hearty Yes! (Thanks again, Mr. McQueen!)

The Spirituality of Dress and The Dandy

Our clothes are too much a part of us for most of us ever to be entirely indifferent to their condition:  it is as though the fabric were indeed a natural extension of the body, or even of the soul.  ~Quentin Bell

Quentin Bell, Historian and Dandy

Quentin Bell, Historian and Dandy

It is easy for us to limit clothing and dress to a rudimentary and perfunctory role in our present society, given our general acceptance of consumerism for consumptions sake. “I want it now and I want it cheap!” we cry and in turn, so goes our soul. The Dandy is oft maligned as a popinjay; something that is mere flash and distraction. I would argue that the Dandy is instead the canary of the collective mineshaft of humanity, bearing the inner desires and hopes literally upon his sleeve. The stoic Greek philosopher Epictetus wrote of this connection,

Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.

In truly knowing himself a man becomes a gentleman and presents himself to the world, to intimates and strangers alike, in the manner of dress that signals that he has attained this enlightenment of self. As Coco Chanel put it,

Adornment is never anything except a reflection of the heart.

Coco Chanel, Fabulous Woman and Friend of the Dandy

Coco Chanel, Fabulous Woman and Friend of the Dandy

As you begin, or indeed continue, your inner journey of style and soul you must also brave your unexamined consumption of the mediocre through conscious and conscientious dress. To steel yourself let the words of writer Princess Elizabeth Bibesco reverberate in your soul,

You don’t have to signal a social conscience by looking like a frump.  Lace knickers won’t hasten the holocaust, you can ban the bomb in a feather boa just as well as without, and a mild interest in the length of hemlines doesn’t necessarily disqualify you from reading Das Kapital and agreeing with every word.

Princess Elizabeth Bibesco, Herald of the Dandy

Princess Elizabeth Bibesco, Herald of the Dandy


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Article first published as The Spirituality of Dress and The Dandy on Technorati.

Victrolacore – Satirical Music for the Sartorial Gentleman

Doctor Steel - OV (Original Villain)

Doctor Steel – OV (Original Villain)

A musical phenomenon of interest to the Kingpin gentleman is one that is emerging from genres being called ‘chap hop‘, ‘modern burlesque’, ‘steampunk‘, even ‘industrial hip-hop opera‘ all of which I put under the broader category of what I have termed Victrolacore. You heard it here first!

The key elements of this branch of the punk bush are the reuse of previous cultural expressions now considered quaint and old-fashioned. Samples taken from recordings of the 20s and 30s; use of antiquated instruments like the banjolele or the harmonium and lyrics peppered with out-of-date colloquialisms are commonly combined with a modern musical approach, like hip hop or industrial structures and then viewed through the gin-soaked lens of satire.

Frisky and Mannish - Chained Heat Prison Edition!

Frisky and Mannish – Chained Heat Prison Edition!

These grafted together with a Kurt Weill sensibility the evokes the music halls of Berlin and London in the period between the world wars. The pervasive decadent burlesque mood hangs from the music. Clever wit (including a stage persona that amplifies the musician’s over-all intent) fuse these disparate elements together.

Mr. B and Professor Elemental - Chap Hop Rivals

Mr. B and Professor Elemental – Chap Hop Rivals

To get an idea of the artists covered by my Victrolacore label I would direct you to listening to Doctor Steel, Mr. B. the Gentleman Rhymer, and Professor Elemental. I would also include the work of Richard Cheese and Frisky and Mannish, as their work utilizes the same devices, only in reverse; they apply antiquated musical styling to current pop music, and produce the music live as opposed to using samples.

Richard Cheese & Lounge Against The Machine

Richard Cheese & Lounge Against The Machine

Key to all of these artists is being elegant ladies and gentlemen their work exudes, each with deeply satisfying satirical effect. Especially enjoyable is how the unrelentingly evil Doctor Steel is careful to observe proper social etiquette in his quest for world domination.

Buried deep in the whole experience of these artists is, I believe, the central tenet also found in dandyism, and one I’ve written about before. The  Worker-Dandyist International says it best:

“…define our Dandyism, in essence, as simply making as much of an effort as possible with the limited resources available.  An effort in sartorial flair and individuality, an effort in civility, social responsibility and courtesy, and an effort in communal culture, welfare and hedonism.”

and Charles Baudelaire puts it best, that,

“Dandyism is not even an excessive delight in clothes and material elegance. For the perfect dandy, these things are no more than the symbol of the aristocratic superiority of his mind.”

Victrolacore musically expresses this same flare. Rage on, good chums, rage on.

Article first published as Victrolacore – Satirical Music for the Sartorial Gentleman on Technorati.

Style Site of Note – The Chap

The Chap Magazine for Gentlemen

It was a lovely surprise to find The Chap, online! Dedicated to defining the modern gentleman in a cheeky style this magazine is published in hard copy bi-monthly. There online presence is a wonderful treat, as it is hard to find on the newsstand here in Canada!

The online version is full of good advice for the modern gentleman and kingpin alike. Even their manifesto includes a clever and humourous list of a genteman’s requirements. Here are Rules 5, 6, and 7 for your edification:

5 THOU SHALT ALWAYS DOFF ONE’S HAT. Alright, so you own a couple of trilbies. Good for you – but it’s hardly going to change the world. Once you start actually lifting them off your head when greeting, departing or simply saluting passers-by, then the revolution will really begin.

6 THOU SHALT NEVER FASTEN THE LOWEST BUTTON ON THY WESKIT. Look, we don’t make the rules, we simply try to keep them going. This one dates back to Edward VII, sufficient reason in itself to observe it.

7 THOU SHALT ALWAYS SPEAK PROPERLY. It’s quite simple really. Instead of saying “Yo, wassup?”, say “How do you do?”

The Chap provides fashion reviews, as this one on the ugliest shoe ever made (from Prada, no less!), style news, and even the latest on the music called ‘chap hop‘.

A tip of my Homburg to the Chaps across the Pond!

Style Site of Note – The Worker-Dandyist International

Worker-Dandyist International LogoFor A Working Class With Class

So goes the motto of the style site The Worker-Dandyist International, a blog devoted to, “…define our Dandyism, in essence, as simply making as much of an effort as possible with the limited resources available.  An effort in sartorial flair and individuality, an effort in civility, social responsibility and courtesy, and an effort in communal culture, welfare and hedonism.”

While their slightly strident pairing of dandyism with more traditional class struggle imagery and jargon (read classic, small ‘c’ communist)  may feel a little limiting and not be everyone’s cup of tea, the relating of political awareness and action is of the same sort that I discussed in my post on the political expression of dandyism that has occurred across cultures over the past several hundred years and how it subtly challenges the status quo.

The blog injects a playful mix of commentary and even has a clever Manifesto of their own! Their recent post about Che Guevara is fantastic! For proof of the link between being well-presented and being a revolutionary they include the lesser known picture of Che:

Che Guevara was a Dandy

Che Guevara was a Dandy

They also have a clever variety of propaganda images for download to add to your website. Their use of design and intelligent humour makes the more clunky dogma quite palatable!

Worker-Dandyist Worker International
Worker-Dandyist Worker International

So a tip of my North American equivalent to the Mao cap and the Che beret, the Bogart Fedora! This still is a shot from his character Paul Fabrini in the movie detailing the high cost truckers pay for the long sleepless nights they had to endure before the days of the Teamsters, They Drive By Night. See you later, sweetheart!

Humphrey Bogart in They Drive By Night

Humphrey Bogart in They Drive By Night