Most of us have heard at least once the term “macaronis”. But do you really know what that means and what story is behind it? Let’s find out. Interesting thing about macaronis is that historically they were English and not Italian, as you would think. And they were the epitome of fashion and style in the 18th century. But were they respected and imitated by people around them? Guess, not. Why? We’ll get to that.
The article is based on a video by Amanda Hallay, fashion historian
So, who were the macaronis? The macaronis were English – this is very important. They were the young English sons of the English aristocracy, and when they were in the late teens or early 20s, they would complete their education by doing something called “The Grand Tour”.
What was the Grand Tour? Well, a bunch of these aristocratic sons would get together and they would do a tour of Greece and Rome and the great cities of Europe so that they could learn about ancient Greek architecture, they could look at the artwork in all of the salons, and, of course, they would look at all of the ancient ruins of Rome. It was supposed to round off their liberal arts education.
But some of these young guys preferred to go shopping, especially in Italy, because in Italy they had very outrageous clothes. And these guys would come back to England with all of this fancy clothing that they had bought in Paris and in Italy.
And they also brought back food that was only available in Italy until they brought it back – pasta. They would have these “pasta parties” where they would show off their clothes. The macaronis were the most outrageously dressed young men around.
Here is a contemporaneous etching of a macaroni. Even by 18th-century standards, he's outrageous. Everybody’s staring at him. The little kid there behind him is laughing his head off at a macaroni.
If you look at the guy in this etching, you can probably see that they weren't the most masculine of guys. But they were the most outrageous dressers. They had the highest wigs imaginable. At the time when the high wig was no longer in, the macaronis brought it back.
Here is a cartoon, a satirical drawing of a macaroni with his servant putting his hat on with a fishing pole. Of course, he didn't really have to do that, but they were making fun of just how outrageous these guys were.
So, the macaronis were really the most high-fashion guys by anybody's standards. And, of course, they wore the most makeup.
The word “macaroni” became the 18th-century colloquialism for ultra-fashionable (to the point of ridiculousness). It was an adjective, meaning “incredibly, incredibly overdone”.