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!)

Gentlemen’s Cravats – A Brief History

Before the modern necktie there was a period in mens fashion where we wore ruffs around our collars.

Gentleman Soldier Wearing a Ruff Collar

Gentleman Soldier Wearing a Ruff Collar

These were all the fashion for men (and women) of distinction from the mid-sixteenth century to the mid-seventeenth century. It took introducing a neck cloth used by Croatian soldiers to get us to where we are today.

Croat Mercenary with Red Neck Scarf - 17th Century

Croat Mercenary Action Figure with Red Neck Scarf - 17th Century

It is easy to imagine a French officer on a battlefield in Europe feeling stifled and put upon by his stiff, starched linen ruff. In all his bother he spied a Croatian officer with the elegant and much less restrictive silk neck cloth wrapped in a much more casual manner around the neck. On his next leave to the city of Paris this officer thought to himself, “Ah-ha!” and he ditched his ruff and tied a length of silk around his neck. Gone was the chaffing and, more importantly, he could lean in close to his petite Parisian chouchou now that his neck was clear. (Maybe this is where the term ‘necking’ first originated, when men went from the uber-formal ruff to the uber-gallant silk neck cloth.)

In any case, he is very pleased with the reaction to his new neck cloth, and soon his fellow officers have donned this new neck wear, now called a ‘cravat’, a bastardization of the French word Croat. A new era is born and embraced by gentlemen across Europe.

Gentleman with a Silk Tied Silk Neck Scarf - The Cravat

Gentleman with a Silk Tied Neck Scarf - The Cravat

There were seemingly endless variations with which men could tie their silk and cotton cravats, thanks in no small manner to Beau Brummell and the rise of the Dandy as a masculine style reaction to the Macaroni.

Illustration From "Neckclothitania" (published by J.J. Stockdale, Sept. 1st. 1818)

Illustration From "Neckclothitania" (published by J.J. Stockdale, Sept. 1st. 1818)

These variations evolved to use patterns and colours to enhance a gentleman’s appearance and outfit. Beginning in the Victorian era the cravat developed into the stylized forms we know and love today: ascots, bow ties, string ties and neck ties. But more on those later…

Dandyism – The French

Portrait of Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly

Portrait of Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly

I am continually amazed as I read more on the subject of dandyism of both its active social role and the influence this role has had on gentlemens apparel for almost the last two hundred years. I would say that dandyism it is the style of presentation that the modern era adapted, breaking forever with the Medieval period. A leading French dandy, Jules Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly, as recorded by Venetia Murray (in her book High Society: A Social History of the Regency Period, 1788–1830), as distinguishing the dandy from the previous fashion of the aristocracy,

…admirers of dandyism have taken the view that it is a sociological phenomenon, the result of a society in a state of transition or revolt. Barbey d’Aurevilly, one of the leading French dandies at the end of the nineteenth century, explained: Some have imagined that dandyism is primarily a specialisation in the art of dressing oneself with daring and elegance. It is that, but much else as well. It is a state of mind made up of many shades, a state of mind produced in old and civilised societies where gaiety has become infrequent or where conventions rule at the price of their subject’s boredom…it is the direct result of the endless warfare between respectability and boredom.

French writers of the era (among other artists and thinkers) like d’Aurevilly, Stendhal, Flaubert, and Baudelaire adopted dandyism,  each of whom further defined the break from the past rule of kings and described in their words, and dress, this new,  modern world and gentleman.

Picking up from Beau Brummel’s establishment of suitable dress for the refined gentleman who was not of noble status, these French writers expanded the meaning of dandyism beyond Brummel’s style and gave words to its role in the political expression of the  social order where the aristocracy was in decline and the middle-class began to rise.

I don’t think the French have looked back since.

The Dandy – A Manifesto

Beau Brummel, Dandy and Kingpin

Beau Brummel, Dandy and Kingpin

From Wikipedia (the true master of us all) we read:

A dandy (also known as a beau, Nathan Dean or gallant) is a man who places particular importance upon physical appearance, refined language, and leisurely hobbies, pursued with the appearance of nonchalance in a cult of Self.

Charles Baudelaire by Emile Deroy, 1844

Charles Baudelaire by Emile Deroy, 1844

There is something beyond the mere intent to dress and behave in a certain manner for the dandy. It is something that Charles Baudelaire described in terms of the dandy’s presence  a reproach to the  the responsible citizen of the middle class:

Dandyism in certain respects comes close to spirituality and to stoicism” and “These beings have no other status, but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons, of satisfying their passions, of feeling and thinking …. Contrary to what many thoughtless people seem to believe, 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.”

The modern dandy may trace itself to the Jeunesse Doree, or guilded youth, of the French Revolution, but it was an Englishman, George Bryan “Beau” Brummell who distilled ‘Dandyism’ to its current form.

Beau Brummel - the Collectible Cigarette Card

Beau Brummel – the Collectible Cigarette Card

Brummel was known for his nicety of dress, elegance of his manners, and smartness of his repartee. He made personal cleanliness popular. Cleaning his teeth, shaving, and scrubbing in a bath daily. He dressed with simple elegance. Oscar Wilde advanced the practice to one of a political act. Wilde famously stated that, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”

Oscar Wilde, Dandy and Scamp

Oscar Wilde, Dandy and Scamp

It is in this spirit that young men have taken on the goal of elegance of dress as a form of social response to times of social oppression. Think of the Teddy Boys and Mods of working-class England, the Zoot Suits of Harlem and East Los Angeles and the Le Sape of the Congo. These styles are firmly grounded in the idea of the dandy. It is a manner of protest of social conscience in a manner befitting  gentleman who wishes to challenge the status quo, whether it be about race, class or sexual orientation.

Cab Calloway in a Zoot Suit

Cab Calloway in a Zoot Suit

Teddy Boys in Manchester, UK in 1955

Teddy Boys in Manchester, UK in 1955

The Mod and His Ride

The Mod and His Ride

Les Sapeurs of the Congo

Les Sapeurs of the Congo

In each of theses cases the careful selection of stylish clothes creates a visual subversion.