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.

Dragging Up the Past…

(Originally blogged June 11, 2010)

I read the following poem a few years ago and thought it very funny and then I ran across this c. 1903 Buster Brown cartoon, so naturally I thought to myself – BLOG ENTRY! From Come Into My Parlour, Cautionary verses and instructive tales for the new millennium by Bill Richardson:

Nothing Like a Dame
The story I’ll tell you is all about Al,
A mountainous man who had mountainous pals,
With gym-sculpted bodies unsullied by toxins;
Their calves hard as granite and necks thick as oxen,
With hillocks for chests and with statuesque shoulders
And biceps the size of conventional boulders,
With tummies that rippled and thighs made of thunder,
And as for the rest — well, I’ll leave you to wonder.
They all had Cameros emblazoned with dragons,
And brows anthropoligists might call Cro-Magnon,
In every way masculine in their deportment;
Oh, never was seen such a macho assortment.
Hallowe’en night was again on the verge
And Al and his pals had the fun-loving urge
To deck themselves out and do something inane.
“I got it,” Al ventured. “Let’s go out as dames!”
“Yeah! Dames!” said his buddies. “Va va va va voom!”
One snickered, “Hooters!” One chuckled, “Bazooms!”
They drove to the thrift store and swiftly took stock,
They bought hideous wigs and rebarbative frocks,
They tried on the shoes and like madmen careened
From pillar to post in their pumps, size 16.
They dashed to the cash and unloaded their carts,
Then went home to practice the womanly arts.
Big Al, on arrival, made haste to put on
His black crepe de Chine and his hot pink chiffon.
He looked in the mirror and liked what he saw:
His nice way with scarves, his complexion sans flaw.
He was big, he was butch, and devotedly hetero…
But still he was thrilled to be sporting stilettos.
He felt like a diva: Tebaldi or Callas.
Thus Al was transformed, and before him stood Alice.
He stood breathing heavily, misting the mirror,
He lurched back a step, teetered nearer and nearer,
And then just as surely as push leads to shove
Allan and Alice fell deeply in love.
Yes, surely as borrowers look for a lender
Al was enmeshed in confusion of gender,
And surely as knickknacks belitter a shelf
Big Al, at a glance, fell in love with himself.
Hallowe’en came, they all had a great time,
And when it was over his buddies consigned
Their dresses and girdles, their borroweds and blues
To attics and basements and Sally Anns, too.
Al though, was different. His buddies were stumped
To see him keep purchasing boas and pumps.
His father was puzzled, his mother depressed,
But Al wanted Alice dependably dressed.
Psychologists doubtless could try to explain,
And give Al’s condition a clinical name.
Reveal how his fondness for ladies’ emporia
Signals some kind of a gender dysphoria,
Call him regressive, or else narcissistic.
Labels, however, are simply simplistic.
Al thinks his life has been latterly great,
He never again needs to look for a date.
A touch of mascara, a girdle and bra,
A dress, matching pumps with a clutch and voila!
In just half an hour he’s changed and he’s ready,
Alice and Al, quite content going steady.
Perhaps you will think this is simply absurd,
Dismiss as apocryphal what you have heard.
All fellows, at some point, on some Hallowe’en
Will smear up their faces with mom’s Maybelline.
Will put on her shoes, even colour their hair
And next day are nothing the worse for the wear.
So why then should Al, quintessentially normal,
Now go out to restaurants bedecked in a formal?
He just knows for certain that self-dating’s fun,
He’s Al and he’s Alice, a couple in one.
The moral is simple. I close with this lone word.
Dateless this weekend? Then Angel, look homeward.