Plenty of time periods evoke groans of regret when it comes to fashion, from the bullet bras of the 1950s to the Hammer pants of the 1990s. However, the towering wigs and frilly outfits of the Macaroni style of the 1760s and 1770s led to so many "what were they thinking" moments, entire industries developed to make fun of its followers. More than 200 years later, Macaronis are still the butt of fashion jokes. While the fashion term "Macaroni" may not be instantly recognizable, you've probably heard it if you've ever sung "Yankee Doodle." Although it would seem the rhyme is referring to pasta, the Yankee Doodle Macaroni in the song actually referred to this strange trend.
The late 18th century saw vast changes across the world, as the Industrial Revolution altered the lives of many through new technologies and better standards of living. Public revolts like the French Revolution symbolized society's dismissal of monarchies and its desire for new forms of government. For decades, aristocracy ruled as the most elite members of society, but as lower-class people gained more power through greater income and opportunity, society turned against those who inherited money and power rather than working to attain them. The men who embraced the Macaroni trend were some of the last believers in the might of the aristocracy, and they used fashion to show off their wealth in an attempt to retain this power. Unfortunately, changes in society's views about money and social status limited its lifespan, and the trend faded out after continued ridicule. Macaroni fashion is now remembered more as a joke and strange historical moment than a significantly important event.
For centuries, people with money have lived in ways deliberately meant to show off their wealth, and the Macaronis embraced this. Through their sense of fashion and their behavior, they crafted an image meant to display their worth. For members of the lower class, this image of aristocracy was an impossible goal, and they lacked the wealth needed to pull off the lifestyle and look of the elite.
Macaronis knew this and rubbed their carefully curated images in the faces of the lower classes by making their outfits as elaborately decorated as possible. Through their giant wigs and fancy clothing, they established themselves as an exclusive group and tried to put lower-class people in their place, looking down on those who would never be able to know luxury or elite status during their lifetimes.
Although European people used wigs since the 16th century in order to cover baldness and deter lice, Macaroni followers exaggerated their wigs to theatrical heights in order to grab people's attention and make a statement. Some men wore tiny hats on top of their wigs, and many styles featured curls or pigtails flowing down the sides or back. People sometimes compared Macaroni wigs to the wigs worn by women, which were often decorated with enough ornamentation that people joked wearers had to sit on the floor in order to fit inside carriages.
Others made fun of Macaroni wigs through comic illustrations that depicted towering hairdos, which sometimes needed help to be held upright. Because these wigs were obviously more ornamental than practical, however, they gave their wearers an element of narcissism and theatricality that they embraced when comparing themselves to the lower classes who couldn't afford such luxuries.
Macaroni adopters needed to make a statement wherever they went and thus wore striped stockings, tight-fitting pants, and long-tailed coats that hugged the body. They embraced fancy, expensive materials like lace and silk, as well as explored the use of bright colors. Men used excessive powder on their faces and carried fancy walking sticks more out of a desire to look good than needing help to walk.
On their feet, the men wore stylish yet impractical footwear known as winklepicker shoes. Decorated with buckles and featuring pointed toes, the shoes worn by Macaroni adopters were considered stylish, despite the fact they made walking difficult. Although many people of the era thought the look was ridiculous, the style showed of the wearers' embrace of decadence and willingness to adopt artificiality for the sake of fashion.
Macaroni culture was not just a fashion style but a way of life. Because they had money and enjoyed showing it off, Macaronis spent most of their time making appearances in fashionable places and partaking in fashionable activities. Card games and gambling became popular, especially when the activities took place in one of the most popular hotspots around London. Many belonged to fashionable social clubs, such as Almack's, or attended entertainment events at Carlisle House put together by impresario Teresa Cornelys.
The masquerade balls held at London's Pantheon were also a popular gathering spot for Macaronis, especially since they could mingle with the other members of English high society who attended the lavish events. Because they had money and wanted to use it as proof of their elitism, Macaronis led carefree lives filled with happy-go-lucky behavior that mimicked their artificial fashion sense.