How I wish I could present this review visually! At first glance, this beautifully bound, pink, hardcover book simply depicts two aristocratic, noble and fashionably dressed characters (men) from the 18th century. On closer observation though, one character’s clothing and make-up appears somewhat outrageous, with bold embroidery and an elaborate hair style.
These images, and the term ‘Macaroni men’, were enough to pique my interest, immediately reminding me of the 1970s punks in the Piccadilly Circus, London. And, though I admit I did judge Pretty Gentlemen by its cover, when I started reading I discovered it is so much more.
Peter McNeil provides a brilliant insight into 18th century men’s fashion, with a twist. His style of writing is fact-driven and accurate, with a touch of charm and 18th century satirical lingo.
In fact, I was surprised by some of the chapters that hooked me – ‘Facts and Fictions: The Macaroni caricature, personality and portraiture’ and ‘Pretty Gentleman: Macaroni dress and male sexualities’. And the images. For example, an image in chapter two which reminded me of Prince Harry’s outfit on his wedding day, but in black, and Harry’s was more Macaroniesque.
Though Pretty Getlemen can be used as an academic reference, it also doubles as a delightful coffee table book. One that’s sure to be a conversation starter, and, I hope one day, be made into a documentary series or podcast!
Peter McNeil is a Distinguished Professor in Design History in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building and at Aalto University Finland.