by Tim Queeney
“Yankee Doodle went to town,
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni”
This bouncy song from colonial America is now more apt to be sung by children in elementary school. At the time the song was written in the 1760s, however, it was used by British army officers to mock the crudely-dressed American men of the colonial militia. British officers, in America to fight in the French and Indian War, saw Americans as unsophisticated rubes who thought the addition of a feather to their ragged tricorner hat was sufficient to transform them into fashionable fellows.
But what does Italian pasta have to do with sophistication? The macaroni reference comes from the informal group of young men in London who had been on the grand tour of Europe and were said to indulge in their love of Italian pasta, a food largely unknown in England. These fashionable fellows were said to belong to an informal “macaroni club” as they would dub items of high fashion as “very Macaroni.” The term was the eighteenth century version of “cool.” Thus, the song laughs at the rude American attempting to become fashionable with a feather.
Clothes are said to make the man and in my novel George in London my characters George and Darius find themselves in cosmopolitan London, accompanying their very “macaroni” aristocratic German business partner, the Baron Mowenholtz. Naturally, the simple clothes the pair have on their backs when they arrive in the capital simply won’t do. George wears a very plain suit of brown homespun and worn boots, while Darius, a mariner, wears mariner’s work clothes called “slops”-- short, wide linen pants to mid-calf, a striped linen or cotton shirt and perhaps a round, low-crowned hat or wool cap. The Baron wants them to present a prosperous image, so he brings the pair to his fancy tailor. With their new-found monies, George and Darius buy themselves somewhat more “macaroni” outfits:
“My new suit of clothes was composed of a dark green wool coat with buff waistcoat and sedge green breeches, a white linen shirt, white wool hose and brown cowhide shoes with brass buckles. My cheap, bob wig was replaced with a proper rig with a cue and ribbon. A buff tricorn hat and canary neck cloth finished me most pleasingly. As my brothers in New York would say, 'I be smokin’ sharp.'
"The baron also chose well for Geo: a dark blue bombazine silk coat with crimson facing, basket buttons and crimson-piped mariner’s cuffs, a crimson waistcoat with silver filigree embroidery and silver buttons, a crimson cravat, dark blue velvet breeches with white linen hose and silver-buckled black dogskin shoes. On his head Geo now flew a well-made horsehair buckle wig and atop it rode a dark blue Kevenhuller hat with a spray of eagle feathers.”
George digs more deeply into his pocket for his new clothes, choosing silk, silver and velvet. In a day when most men wore wigs, George purchases a fancy “buckle wig” and tops it with a fashionable, broad-brimmed style of chapeau a tricorne called a Kevenhuller. Naturally, an American to the core, he finishes his ensemble off with some feathers stuck in his hat -- very “macaroni!”
Tim Queeney’s book George in London the newly discovered tale of 19-year-old George Washington’s adventure in London seeking his fortune is available at Amazon for Kindle http://amzn.to/q3OoRD and at Barnes&Noble for Nook http://bit.ly/uCIaAt