Fashion in Song – Yankee Doodle Dandy c. 1760

Yankee Doodle Dandy was originally sung by British soldiers during the French Indian wars (1754-1763) in mockery of unsophisticated colonials. There were many verses and different versions of lyrics over the next few decades, but the one that stuck was the one about the macaroni.

Yankee Doodle, Norman Rockwell

Yankee (American yokel), Doodle (foolish idiot), Dandy (this could be interpreted as anything from a fashion conscious fop to a derogatory reference akin to faggot) was an attack on someone’s sophistication, place of birth, intellect, looks, and even sexual orientation. It was the sort of thing that if hurled thoughtlessly in a pub could lead to fisticuffs.

The song is about one ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ who went to town on a pony (not a horse), and stuck a feather in his cap thinking it made him look très chic – like a ‘macaroni’. This pasta-inspired term was used to describe fashionable, sophisticated British gentleman who were cultured and eloquent with affected effete behaviour (aka manners). They became known for an exotic Italian pasta dish they brought back to England from their Grand Tours in Italy. This is funny considering how déclassé macaroni is considered to Italian foodies these days, however, the term was used to describe all forms of pasta not just elbows covered in yummy melted cheddar cheese (which ironically became a popular dish in 18th century America.)

Unfortunately, for the Yankee Doodle in the song, the feather in his cap only emphasized his bumpkin buffoonery. However, in a contemporary-like twist of re-appropriating slurs, Americans began singing the song themselves, reportedly after the battle of Yorktown in 1781 as a way of rubbing it in that the Yanks beat the Brits (aka Yo Mama…)

From a fashion point, what is interesting about this song is that it identifies a mistrust or dislike for overly-sophisticated and groomed males in American culture that continues to exist. Whether its feathered hats, or umbrellas, or sandals, or man-bags – many elements of men’s dress considered appropriate or fashionable on the other side of the Atlantic have been looked askance as affected and effete in the U.S.

Fashionista – Count Alfred d’Orsay (1801-1852)

1834 lithograph by Irish portrait artist Daniel Maclise of Count D’Orsay

There have been many fashion leaders who never designed: Kim Kardashian, Twiggy, Madame de Pompadour, Jenny Lind, Lily Langtry, Beau Brummel, and Alfred Guillaume Gabriel – the Count d’Orsay.

D’Orsay (1801 – 1852) was a French gentleman who married into British aristocracy. He was Beau Brummel’s successor as a dandy in all manners of taste, vanity, dress, style and wit – In early Victorian England, the term ‘dossy’ (someone who is elegant) was probably derived from his name.

D’Orsay’s portrait became the model for the New Yorker magazine’s mascot renamed in 1925 by humourist Corey Ford as ‘Eustace Tilley’

D’Orsay was a painter, and a diarist, and a professional society party-goer but he was not a designer and did not invent any styles of clothing. However, as a leader of fashion his name became attached to three trends that became fashions in the 1830s:

D’Orsay pump: Shoe with cutaway sides. Some references to the style being first used as military footwear in 1838 are wrong, it was originally an indoor slipper aka: opera slipper.

D’Orsay coat: Man’s overcoat fitted through the waist with a dart (princess line), with knee length skirts without pleats and minimal decoration to best show off the figure. Illustration at right shows an 1870s version of the tightly fitted D’Orsay coat.

D’Orsay roll: A British term for high hat with full rolling brim, like the one that appears in his 1834 portrait.