I remember the first time I saw a “hipster.”
Outside of the Art Institute of Chicago strolled a young man in tight, high-water jeans, a lumberjack shirt of red and black flannel, and suspenders. He also had a fluffy, flowing beard under large-framed glasses.
Was this a costume, couture, or an “artist’s salary” consignment collage? I loved it—but people stared, and some laughed.
That same sidewalk has hosted the rubber-bracelet-adorned arms of early Madonna look-alikes, colorful hippies, and other trendsetters over the generations. It never took long for whatever the style was there to spread everywhere—even if, at first, it seemed ridiculous.
The same can be said for good ol’ Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Yes, the famous subject of our informal American anthem, “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” was a trendsetter.
To refresh our memories of the history of style, a “dandy” became a word synonymous with men in the late 18th century who did not have wealth or stature. They simply placed physical looks first, donning impeccable style day in and day out. They were known only for their fashion sense, like an early Kardashian.
At the same time in London, silver-spooned youth called “macaroni” reeked of status made obvious by their fashion. They flaunted their wealth and wanderlust after touring Europe, with their ridiculous, new trends. The macaroni men became famous. They had huge, colorful wigs and matching fine outfits, with new “winklepicker” (very pointy) shoes for strolling down the city’s sidewalks. They also boasted and raved about a new favorite food, the macaroni noodle, from Italy—hence, the name.
Imagine this guy flirting his way around your next party…nice wig, eh?
These trendy macaroni fashionistas influenced fashion beyond their borders. Their tastes even taunted the expats in America. Despite their deep desire to be different than their ancestors, the American youth craved the macaroni status—wigs and all.
On a trip to colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, my family heard this tale at the recreated wig shop. The macaroni trend was particularly popular with second sons. The first-born sons received the land and business of the family, but the rest had to fend for themselves. So, dressing like “dandy macaroni” helped draw the attention of wealthy women who they could hook for marriage.
So, what do we really have in our beloved tune? A song the British created to make fun of us.
“Yankee Doodle went to town,
A-riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni.”
Translation: (Note: a “doodle” is a simpleton.)
A simple Yankee went to town,
Riding on a pony (because he can’t afford a horse),
He has a lame feather in his hat,
And thinks he’s high-society macaroni.
Ha! Yet, the joke was on the British.
When the British soldiers surrendered at Bunker Hill, the Americans took the tune as a victory cry and sang it back to them with pride. We may not be fancy macaroni, but we won—ha!
So, what’s the moral of this dandy story?
The next time someone nearby is teased, taunted, or ridiculed for their fashion—remember “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
It is in our American blood to overcome, to take the negative, and to make it our positive. So, give that person a compliment like you mean it.
This Fourth of July, let’s be like Yankee Doodle Dandy. Let’s don our favorite fashion like we mean it and share the love!