One thought ahead. Two sentences behind.

Macaroni Part I of II

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

Teo didn’t waste a moment. Neely watched him shift his gloves from his left to right hand and crack Tyler across the face, stinging him with those kid gloves.

Elmore Leonard
Cuba Libre

 

I’m not sure kid gloves work well as gloves. Gloves are meant to protect the hands from the elements. Kid gloves sole purpose are to be removed. For example, if one wanted to initiate a dual in 1700’s Europe, kid gloves would be used to slap an opponent into a challenge. If one wanted to fornicate in the upper echelons of New York Society during the 1800’s, simply removing one of these high-end accessories was more than enough.

Made from the leather of a baby goat, kid gloves don’t hold up to much scrutiny. They are so delicate in constitution Mark Twain fell into a great fit trying on a pair:

I tugged at it diligently, but it was discouraging work. I made another effort and tore the glove from the back of the thumb into the palm of my hand… Nothing was left but melancholy ruin.

Mark Twain
The Innocence Abroad

 

Twain was told it was proper form to wear kid gloves to the theater. But what kind of glove fights when you try to put it on? Is this where the phrase “handle with kid gloves” comes from? To wear them is to demonstrate a certain aptitude by not ripping them apart.  And once on forget about any exertion, which may be their intended purpose: to show the world through fashion one’s lot in life as one who doesn’t have to work.

I never gave much thought to men’s fashion. Then I was watching an English Premiere Football match (circa 2016). Chelsea was playing another team that wasn’t Chelsea. And as I watched, I couldn’t help notice how well-healed Chelsea’s manager looked.

 

English Premiere Football Manager Antonio Conte

 

Antonio Conte’s dark suit provided an interesting contrast to the pitch of green that surrounded him. This outfit wasn’t thrown together. It looked tailor made. The suit was made for Conte and only Conte could wear this suit. How different he looked compared to his American counterparts.

 

 

BASKETBALL – Dress like they really want to sell you that BMW.

BASEBALL – Dress like they are ready to go into the game if it wasn’t for the glaucoma and back spasms.

FOOTBALL – Dress like they raided the equipment room ten minutes before the game.

HOCKEY – Dress like they are going to their best friend’s third wedding.

 

Watching a screaming Italian jump up and down in a Dolce & Gabbena suit led me to wonder the purpose of men’s fashion and what role, if any, it had in my life. If I were to devote any time and expense to a certain style, what would it be? Well, what are my options?

When it comes to formal wear, no one goes all in more than royalty, especially the House of Tudor. Just look at this portrait.

 

King Henry VIII Family Portrait

 

Is there any difference between the royal family and the background? There is absolutely no division. The background could be the portrait and the royal family could be the background. King Henry could easily drop to his knees and become an ottoman. But was that not the style of the era: to wear your wealth in rich, voluminous fabrics like brocade, silk, velvet and furs?

King Henry spent the equivalent of three million dollars a year on his wardrobe, and the above outfit was the best he could do? Let’s start off with the shirt (which you cannot see). Wide and billowy, Renaissance tops top hung from the shoulders like an ill-fitting pillowcases. Not to worry! They could be covered up with doublets and jerkins, which are quilted jackets and vests. Then the men draped themselves with the nearest curtains. Why? Because they had to walk around a drafty castles in pantyhose and shorts called round hoses and slops. (Shorts? In England? In the middle of winter? Three million dollars?) But the saddest part of this ensemble isn’t the short-shorts or billowy tops. It’s the flat cap, a hat so defeated it looks like it simply gave up being a hat.

Even today the English Court still holds endless fascination and influences how we hold galas, go to prom or even get married. After all, who doesn’t want to wear a crown?

 

Royal Me

 

This may have been me at my formal best. The rented coat a good fit, the slacks almost reach the leather shoes. Thank God there was a runway to guide me, eyes locked, feet pointed, ready to deliver the prize.

Since they were closer to warmer waters, the Romans didn’t have to wear all their clothes at once. For most, a tunic was enough.

What is a tunic? Think of a burlap sack with openings for the arms and head and a rope to tie the billowy middle. That’s a tunic. Simple enough. It was the go-to outfit for those who needed to run to the market or invade a neighboring region. But what to wear on a formal occasion? Then you pulled out the toga.

 

Marlon Brando as Mark Antony in Julius Caesar

 

I always thought the most comfortable outfit you could wear is a toga. After all, isn’t it just a bed sheet? At least that is what John Belushi wore in Animal House, creating endless iterations thereafter. But an actual Roman toga was not something you could toss on. First of all there was the pure amount of fabric: a semi-elliptical piece of wool that is six feet in width and twelve feet in length.

It may be breezy to go to a party in a thin cotton sheet. It’s another mater having living room drapes hanging all over you.

Wearing a toga was a costly affair in purchase and upkeep. Even to properly wear one required help. Those of means had a two man crew (aka slaves) to wrap the noble body with a drop, a wrap, toss, pass with the remaining fabric hung from the left arm.

Augusta was the first to make the toga mandatory for public functions. His reason: to show through fashion a peaceful endeavor, meaning no one could start a fist fight with one arm posing as a curtain rod.

Like kid gloves the toga was also an outfit designed to display wealth. To have the finest fabric and the slaves to properly drape showed one’s lot in life, which is to say: “I can’t possibly work on the aqueduct today. I’m simply drowning in wool.”

So what to do when one has enough of formal fashion? Well, you can always rebel. But how? Before Punks and Goths there was Macaroni.

Those who prescribed to Macaroni were the progenitors of the dandy and fop. They came from the English upper class in the mid 1800’s. Basically, they were spoiled brats who on the 21st birthday went on a world tour, meaning they ended up in Italy eating and drinking. And what they loved more than anything else was a short tubular pasta. They couldn’t get enough of it. They were mad about it. And when they came back to England they started calling anything of consequence “Macaroni.” But it didn’t end there. If these gentlemen were going to talk with such extravagance, they needed to dress as much.

Coats were tight. Huge buttons decorated short waistcoats. Narrow, daintily shoes sported buckles almost longer than they were.

Linda Banache
Macaroni! And I don’t mean pasta

 

But what made Macaroni MACARONI wasn’t the silk cravats or lace and ruffles. It was the wig.

 

Macaroni Fashion

 

Now this is a full rebellion against formal attire: having a wig as tall as a bird condo. You can’t get any more extreme than a powder-white wig so vertical you need a cane to remove your tiny cap (chapeau bras).

These young men may have been reckless in their choice of atire, but were they really rebels? I only ask for I felt like I was caught in a similar movement when disco reigned and fashion turned more colorful.

 

Me as a fashion rebel

 

The picture of me on the left, sitting on a burnt-orange Naugahyde ottoman, has echoes of Macaroni with the giant belt buckle and buttons on the tight vest. Still, no lace or ruffles but plenty of colorful stripes that continue onto the next picture.

I really like this picture of me on the tornado slide. My pants provide an interesting compliment to the candy cane pole and bolted sheets of metal. Again, the camera catches me in motion, eyes locked, feet pointed, ready to stick the landing or pitch face-first into the dirt.

These pictures may be loud and colorful but am I really a rebel or like the English and their Macaroni do I just look like a clown? Can one dress like a rebel without even being aware of the revolution? For example, I don’t think those who wore Zoot Suits ever thought they were on the front line of class warfare, but that didn’t prevent them from being swept into one.

What is a Zoot Suit? Well, Malcolm X had the perfect description when as a young Harlem hustler by the name Detroit Red he described the outfit as:

A killer-diller coat with a drape shape, reat-pleats and shoulders padded like a lunatic’s cell.

Autobiography of Malcolm X

 

With suit coats that went well below the knees and pants that went high into the chest, there was nothing practical about this suit except for its intended purpose of being a show stopper. Just look how similar the suit looks next to an authentic Roman toga.

 

Roman Emperor Nerva and Big Band Leader Cab Calloway

 

Where the toga was a fashion statement for the Roman elite, the Zoot Suit got its birth from working jazz musicians in 1940’s Harlem. Soon the street hustlers like Detroit Red got in on the act. Then it started appearing on the West Coast in the Latino and Filipino communities. Mostly, it was young men who were making good money during the war and were yet to be encumbered with responsibility. So most of their money went to buying excessive, expensive clothes. The average Zoot Suit had enough fabric to make three suits. Oodles of fabric flowed from these garments and that was a problem. There was a war going on and the flamboyant style of the Zoot Suit ran counter to the austere measures of the war effort. Everything was being rationed. So how could someone go around wearing a brand new suit that practically fell to the floor when woman were being asked to no longer wear silk stockings?

Well the Zoot Suiters had two things going for them when it came to running counter to national opinion:

(a) They were recent immigrants with no sense of American identity.  (b) They were thinking about girls.

That was it. They worked. They made money. They bought expensive suits and proudly wore them. You could say they were living the American dream. Still, some Americans had a problem, Navy sailors in particular. It didn’t help that the sailors had to dress like they were being shipped off to a Swiss boarding school and the Latino youths were dressed like they were the ones pulling the strings. That would not do. So words were exchanged and fists were thrown. Whoever started it is up for debate but the end result became known as the Zoot Suit Riots as the sailors were given a pass by local law enforcement to roam the streets of Los Angeles with sticks and bats, looking for anyone wearing a Zoot Suit to strip and beat.

Didn’t think it happened? Well it did. The riot went on for days as sailors dragged harmless bystanders from diners and movie theaters to enact their own brand of fashion justice. This was nationalism at its most fevered pitch. It got so bad that the police decided to step in and arrest the Latino youths, not to punish but to protect. Just look at this photo.

 

Zoot Suiters

 

Does this look like a band of rebels bent on destruction? What I see is a bunch of kids who don’t know what is fully going on. In fact, moving from left to right, you can see by degree how each contemplates his current situation.

 

  •  The first three look like they trying to decide whom to dance with next.
  • The fourth is having fun but there are shades of something amiss.
  • The fifth knows something isn’t right.
  • The sixth is not going to take his eyes of the cops for one second.

 

Who thought wearing a simple outfit could cause such an upheaval. But the Scots knew full well a kilt was the equivalent of giving the English Crown the middle finger.

For such a simple outfit wearing a kilt is a complicated affair. It first started out much like a toga in that it was a long singular piece of cloth that was draped, wrapped and swung over the shoulder. Basically, the men wore their bedding for the evening. And you can see from this picture it may have been one of the few times in the history of fashion where men competed with women in the amount of fabric worn.

 

Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan in the TV Series Outlander

 

Ironically, the modern kilt was first introduced by an English industrialist by the name of Thomas Rawlinson. He found the grand kilt to cumbersome when working around machinery. So instead of having his loose garment sucked into a grinding gear, he went to his tailors and said, “Bloody well do something.”

The tailors took the only logical step, cut the length in half and told Rawlinson to wear the remaining fabric around his waist. Thus the modern kilt was born and spread when Rawlinson’s associate, Ian MacDonnell, wore the new look while back home in Inverness. From there it spread into the Highlands and soon became a symbol of Scottish identity even as the British were trying to squash such a notion by passing the Dress Act of 1746:

No plaid, philabeg, little kilt, trowse, shoulder belts, or any part whatever of what belongs to the Highland garb.

 

The English were not messing around. To enforce the act they imposed draconian measures.

 

FIRST OFFENSE – Six months imprisonment

SECOND OFFENSE – Seven years of manual labor overseas

THIRD OFFENSE – Must dress as a Beefeater*

* Not an actual offense for no Scotsman would dress like a third-rate nutcracker.

 

The dress act was repealed in 1782 but by then the English burnished through fashion a national identity for those in the Highlands. But as unifying as the kilt was to the country, the tartan patterns could be as complicated as a 200 year land dispute. After all, what type of pattern you wear may tell as much about you as any obituary. The patterns are as endless as there are towns, clubs and clans, but most come from four major patterns.

 

 

ANCIENT – green, blue and orange

MODERN – bright red, dark hunter green and navy blue

WEATHERED – light brown, gray and red wine

MUTED – olive, slate and really red wine

 

Rawlinson took a cumbersome outfit and made it practical. After all, isn’t that what most men want? That’s why I don’t understand why a simple article of men’s clothing only recently came into existence…

 

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