The Library at Yale University has a collection of the furniture, books, and prints once owned by the prominent connoisseur, writer, and politician Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (1717 – 1797), an English writer, art historian, and politician. The son of the first British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole never married, and had a series of unconsummated flirtations with unmarriageable women and counted among his closest friends Anne Seymour Damer and Mary Berry, both lesbians. We do know that he has a passionate but ultimately unhappy love affair with the 9th Earl of Lincoln, Henry Fiennes Pelham-Clinton.
After graduating from Cambridge, Pelham-Clinton was sent abroad to complete his education. In Italy, where he was studying fencing, he met Walpole. Pelham-Clinton was exceedingly good-looking, with the reputation as the most handsome man in England. While in Italy, the gentlemen quarreled and separated.
Walpole was a fop and he is responsible for the first recorded the existence of a “Macaroni Club” in 1764 which consisted of “all the travelled young men who wear long curls and spying-glasses”. This trait of being “travelled”, or of at least adopting certain Continental affectations, was particularly salient for the identity of the Macaroni, and indeed lies behind the slightly peculiar label itself. British people loved their roast beef, but young Englishmen recently returned from their Grand Tour of Europe flaunted their newly acquired tastes for Italian cuisine with a supposed penchant for macaroni pasta in particular.
As with food, so it was with the wardrobe, and a certain flair for Continental fashion being an essential aspect of Macaroni life, one mocked in hundreds of satirical cartoons. One such print, A Macaroni Dressing Room, published in 1772, shows a group of affected, fashion-obsessed men. At the center of the print, an individual wearing facial beauty patches has his wig attended to by a flamboyant hairdresser and his black assistant. Another man is shown pretending fencing while a third plays with a pet bird.
The print implies that they had fallen prey to the vanity characterized by women of fashion. Dandies were men who placed particular importance upon their physical appearance, refined language, and leisure hobbies. A self-made dandy was a British middle-class man who impersonated an aristocratic lifestyle. They notably stuck feathers in their hats, and carried two pocket watches with chains: “one to tell what time it was and the other to tell what time it was not…” This new Dandyism was equated with a treasonous flirtation with England’s luxury-obsessed enemy, France. This flair for the outlandish was coded in terms not simply of effeminacy but also of sexual preference. Attention to fashion was read as evidence of a lack of interest in women.
In British conversation, the term “Yankee Doodle Dandy” implied unsophisticated misappropriation of high-class fashion, as though simply sticking a feather in one’s cap would make one to be noble. The British were insinuating that the colonists were low-class men lacking masculinity, emphasizing that the American men were womanly. As the song says:
Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni.
Yankee Doodle keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy,
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.
The Macaronis in their dressing room in this piece are dressing up for the benefit of each other, and so snubbing the ladies. Permeating all these late 18-century notions of the Macaroni is the idea that foreign cuisine and dress were not the only unconventional customs that these travelled young men brought back from abroad, but was also associated by the Protestant British with perversity because of the influence of unmarried Roman Catholic priesthood which, it was thought, expended its sexual energies to sodomy and that the British aristocrats might also bring a taste for such vices back with them from their travels.