And Called It Macaroni
by Michael Powers
Yankee Doodle went to London
Riding on a pony
Stuck a feather in his hat
And called it macaroni
A macaroni was a fop who was in the height of fashion during the 1770's. Sure enough, they were centered in London. A real macaroni would never ride on a pony. Had to have a carriage with footmen. So the whole idea of a primitive Yankee provincial being a macaroni was absurd, which was the point of the song.
The macaroni has never really left us, though.
In African-American culture a pimp is called a mack, and that's why. And sure enough, he dresses like a macaroni. Extravagant as the pimp may be, ain't nothin' like the real thing. A real 18th century macaroni was a very wealthy young man with way too much time on his hands, who lived off of the British royalty rental income money machine and didn't have to do a thing. It is something that is hard to handle, and many fell into the drinking and gambling downward spiral.
There aren't many images of macaronis.
Images came only from paintings and they were very expensive. But we do have paintings of the women who hung out with them. Maximum leader of style was Georgiana Spencer, a direct ancestor of the late Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales. There is a portrait by Gainsborough—he was the best portrait painter in England at the time—of her in a hat of her own invention. By God, that's the mother of all pimp hats.
Georgiana had a life remarkably similar to that of Princess Diana. When very young (age 17) she married the second richest man in England. He had a mistress that he was in love with, and made it very clear that he had married only as a resented social obligation. He ignored the Duchess completely except whilst begetting an heir. Georgiana reacted by becoming the most famous and popular woman in England.
A newspaper of the time stated that the Duke must be the only man in England not in love with the Duchess.
Hollywood has gotten into the act, with a big-time movie about Georgiana due out in September. The critics say it is mediocre, but it doesn't matter, it is going to steamroller the world anyway. People are sick of factory clothes. They're ready for some real style.
It's already happened in Japan. Same situation, lots of young people with a lot of money and a lot of energy who can't stand to be bored. But instead of a thousand people like in 1770, now it is millions. Young Japan has gone macaroni. The closely related Louis XIV shtick is big too. Young people have those clothes custom made.
In fashion is a silly hat the size of a fist, a revival of a macaroni style.
It looks like this time around, they will stick with the frivolous fun and pass over the self-degradation, the ruinous gambling debts, and the final act at the guillotine.
Michael Powers is a philosopher and jazz musician in Ubud, Bali.
Graphics selected from his archive