A Feather In My Hat: The Macaroni Prints
By Kenneth N. Kurtz
Yankee Doodle went to town,
A riding on a pony.
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it Macaroni.
Most American children, upon hearing the lyrics of our country’s first patriotic song, “Yankee Doodle”, ask why sticking a feather in Yankee Doodle’s hat made him into a noodle. Too few adults can answer that in the eighteenth century “macaroni” was a term that the English borrowed from the Italians to mean a very frilly (and often silly) version of the urban dandy. It was only later that a curlicued form of pasta took on the name.
I learned this because my parents, who loved to summer in the Scottish Border town of Selkirk, found a set of Georgian fashion prints in a book shop in Edinburgh. Mother had them framed and hung in the foyer of our home in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Now, more than fifty years later, as the eldest of three brothers and scion of the family, they hang in my foyer here in Miami. Recently I had them photographed in honour of this delightful blog.
These are eight of a set of twenty-four Macaroni fashion plates drawn by one of England’s first caricaturists, Mary Marley, and engraved and printed by her husband, Mathew Marley, in 1772. I’m willing to bet that Mary herself did the hand water-colouring of the prints. Originally they worked out of a shop on the Strand, but the subject became so popular that a second shop was opened in the West End, run by Mary, and popularly named “The Macaroni Shop.” Her husband achieved his own claim to fame by drawing and engraving the illustrations for Thomas Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Directory.
I wonder what my parents’ reaction would be at the thought that in purchasing and hanging these prints that they were forecasting not only their eldest son’s gayness, but also his happy association with a fine web site named after the Macaronis.
(Kenneth Kurtz is the author of Here, And Always Have Been, a collection of gay historical short stories, written under the pseudonym of Kenneth Craigside, and available at Amazon.com)