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.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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2 Responses to Fashion in Song – Yankee Doodle Dandy c. 1760

  1. Patti says:

    I just recently watched a British program that stated that the term macaroni was used to describe how the British elite came home dressed after a tour in Italy, part of the “costume” was a very tall and elaborate wig. It was a derogatory remark hurled at them for their pompous attitude and elaborate “costume”. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the show but it was viewed either on Netflix or Acorn TV.

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