A macaroni (or formerly maccaroni) in mid-18th century England, was a fashionable fellow who dressed and even spoke in an outlandishly affected and epicene manner. The term pejoratively referred to a man who "exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion" in terms of clothes, fastidious eating and gambling.
Macaroni fashion was contagious, and as it spread beyond its original cadre into the rising middle-sorts, it took on a life of is own in the print media, becoming a phenomenon that far outstripped the effect of the relatively few macaroni men who actually strode the streets of London. Indeed, the figure of the macaroni became a catalyst for debate over how Britons could heed the siren call of luxurious consumption, individualism, and cultural sophistication without "exceed[ing] the ordinary bounds of fashion" and becoming thereby both effeminate and inauthentic.
Although sometimes conflated, the macaroni is incompatible with the dandy, who was concerned rather with an ease and elegance born of restraint rather than a register of excess. The dandy continued, however, the macaroni project of a focus on looking - and being looked at - which disrupted gendered notions of the (female) subject.
English aristocrats who wore ultra-French clothes did so, at least in part, to make a political statement: to differentiate themselves from wealthy merchants and lesser country gentlemen (who wore plain dark suits with excellent linen) at the same time that they associated themselves with their counterparts in the Continent. It is significant that Macaroni fashion appeared when the aristocratic oligarchy was at its most narrow and exclusive - and just as it was beginning to be challenged by liberal and popular movements.
Many of these Macaronis wore coloured strings at the knee of their breeches, but the fashion died away when Jack Rann, 'Sixteen String Jack,' as he was called after this fashion, had been hung in this make of breeches.
Macaroni identity was not a peripheral incident in eighteenth-century culture but a lively topic of debate in the periodical press. Motives for retaining elaborate dress requisite at court but not necessary in the streets of commercial London was various, inflected by the class interests and personal motivations of the wearers. Macaroni status was attributed to such famous figures as the Whig politician Charles James Fox (1749-1806), “the Original Macaroni;” the botanist and South Sea explorer Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), the “Fly Catching Macaroni;” the renowned miniature painter Richard Cosway (1742-1821); the famed landscape garden-designer Humphrey Repton (1752-1818); the St. Martin’s Lane luxury upholsterer John Cobb; Julius “Soubise,” the freed slave of the duchess of Queensbury, the “Mungo Macaroni;” and the Reverend William Dodd (1729-1777), the extravagantly-dressed Chaplain to George III.
"Macaroni" referred both to particular short-lived fashion for men in the early 1770s and to a certain kind of man. Often derisive, the term applied to elaborately powdered, ruffled, and corseted men of fashion, successors to the Restoration-era fop and predecessors to the nineteenth-century dandy.
They came to be associated with excess frivolity, effeminacy, and were plausibly the last vestiges of a court culture that was invariably giving way to a mercantile and bourgeois class. The social and fashion elite of the aristocratic class were emblemized by the Macaronis and, so too, caricatured by them. The Macaroni fashion as a cultural indicator of elitist aspirations has seen itself revived in fashion history in the styles of the foppish dandy, the more literary flaneur, and, more recently, the ultra urban metrosexual male.
The Macaronis were only interested in extremes and so they founded the Macaroni Club. Setting out to be leaders of style, they introduced onto the fashion scene a plain, very much shorter coat, pleated and flared at the back to be worn with a plain or horizontally striped waistcoat and plain or vertically striped breeches. Macaronis also painted, wore two watches and carried pretty nosegays.
...macaroni dress took the standard male wardrobe of wig, coat, waistcoat, breeches, stockings and shoes to absurd lengths. The express purpose was to shock people. And shock they did. Coats were tight. Huge buttons decorated short waistcoats. Narrow, dainty shoes sported buckles almost larger than they were. And copious amounts of lace, ribbon, ruffles and whatever other outrageous decoration took the wearer's fancy trimmed the outfits, with everything in gaudy colors and showy fabrics like silks and satins. Perhaps the most obvious feature of macaroni fashion was the wig. As in these pictures, macaroni wigs were excessively elaborate and tall, and, by contrast, crowned with a tiny hat that literally could be removed only with the point of a sword.
Macaroni, when used in mens fashions, refers to a mid-18th century trend where young men started dressing in the most epicene (androgynous, effeminate) and affected style. They were the metrosexuals of their day. [...] This trend started with young British aristocrats returning from the Grand Tour (a subject for another time) and the look got its name from the recent excitement around Italian pasta, specifically macaroni. [...] This trend of dressing more and more garish and adopting various female identified clothing styles increased in popularity among the very rich. And it created a style among wealthy young men that shared the delicate sensibility of women’s fashion of the period.