The Hipster, the Macaroni and the Fop
The emergence of the modern-day hipster is the antithesis of the 18th-century Macaroni, but they have some things in common.
Macaronis were fashionable fellows who dressed and even spoke in an outlandishly affected manner. The macaroni only wanted was new and expensive. They thrived on spending money on the most outlandish costumes and hair.
The term macaroni is a pejorative one and referred to a man who “exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion” in terms of clothes, fastidious eating and gambling. It was used to describe young men who had been to Italy on the Grand Tour and developed a taste for maccaroni, a type of pasta little known in England then, and so they were said to belong to the Macaroni Club.
Macaronis were the object of some savage British satire. In the Middlesex Journal for November 7th, 1772 Juventis commented on the use of the term macaroni: “If I consult the prints, ’tis a figure with something uncommon in its dress or appearance; if the ladies, an effeminate fop; but if the’ prentice-boys, a queer fellow with a great large tail.” Basically, this meant that the author thought if a woman looked at an illustration of a Macaroni, she would think she was looking at an effeminate dandy, while a working-class boy would say the man was a homosexual.
Hipster men, gay and straight, have made Retro their cool. The environment they say is precious to them, so they have turned their backs on the ‘the new’. The purloin their style from the racks of the Vintage shops choosing tweeds, corduroy and shirts made of cotton. Hipsters want to wear Sylvia Plath’s cardigans and Buddy Holly’s glasses because to be cool isn’t to look like a television star. They have beards and wear their hair in ponytails and buns revelling in the irony of making what was once nerdy cool. The only new thing Hipsters want is technology and coffee. These latter-day dandies wish to live hi-tech and sustainably; eat organic, gluten-free grains and preen their whiskers in the Edwardian style barbers shops.
Dandies appeared in the late 18th-century. Of course, both the dandy and the macaroni appear in the popular American Revolution song ‘Yanki-doodle-dandy’ the song that describes how an American colonist stuck a feather in his cap and called it Macaroni.
Napoleon and soldiering made ‘dandy’ a vogue word in the late 18th-century. Military men did not see themselves as men about town. Distinguishing a “dandy” from a “fop” was not difficult. The dandy was a rich, fashionable man about town, a man who could afford to copy the style of George Bryan “Beau” Brummell (1778–1840), in his early days, an undergraduate student at Oriel College, Oxford and later, an associate of the Prince Regent. The dandy’s dress was more refined and sober than the fop’s. The fop was a man of more modest means who made foolish and unfashionable choices about his wardrobe. The fop was a object of fun and was variously known as a coxcomb, a fribble, a popinjay (meaning ‘parrot’), a fashion-monger, or a ninny. He was the 18th-century equivalent of medallion man.
A 21st-century fop would be the hair-obsessed character Ulysses Everett McGill (played by George Clooney) in the Coen brothers film O Brother Where Art Thou (2001) and the character of Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp) in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series. Depp’s style has been termed “grunge fop” because he has dreadlocks. The actor’s mannerisms caused concerns among executives at the Walt Disney Company Depp’s characterisation of Sparrow prevailed, thereby creating a new generation of fans of the fop.
Hipsters, dandies and fops are extremes in men’s fashion. It is often said that women do not dress for men but for other women. When we look at the history of men’s fashion, the hipster, the dandy and the fop seem to have no interest in the opposite sex, they like women are dressing to impress each other.
Julia Herdman writes historical fiction. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 and on Kindle.
Sinclair is available of Amazon. Click here to get your copy.
Sinclair is set in the London Borough of Southward, the Yorkshire town of Beverley and in Paris and Edinburgh in the late 1780s. Strong female leads include the widow Charlotte Leadam and the farmer’s daughter Lucy Leadam. Sinclair is a story of love, loss and redemption. Prodigal son James Sinclair is transformed by his experience of being shipwrecked on the way to India to make his fortune. Obstacles to love and happiness include ambition, conflict with a God, temptation and betrayal. Remorse brings restitution and recovery. Sinclair is an extraordinary book. It will immerse you in the world of 18th century London where the rich and the poor are treated with kindness and compassion by this passionate Scottish doctor and his widowed landlady, the owner of the apothecary shop in Tooley Street. Sinclair is filled with twists and tragedies, but it will leave you feeling good.
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