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Pretty Gentlemen: Macaroni Men and the Eighteenth-Century Fashion World

by Peter McNeil Yale University Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 256 pages
AU$84.99 NZ$86.95
Product Status: In Stock Now
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The term “macaroni” was once as familiar a sartorial term as “punk” or “hipster” is today. In this beautifully illustrated book devoted to notable 18th-century British male fashion, award-winning author and fashion historian Peter McNeil brings together fashion, biography, and historical events with the broader visual and material culture of the late 18th century.


For thirty years, macaroni was a highly topical term, yielding a complex set of social, sexual, and cultural associations. Pretty Gentlemen is grounded in surviving dress, archival documents, and art spanning hierarchies and genres, from scurrilous caricature to respectful portrait painting. Celebrities hailed and mocked as macaroni include politician Charles James Fox, painter Richard Cosway, freed slave Julius "Soubise," and criminal parson Reverend Dodd. The style also rapidly spread to neighboring countries in cross-cultural exchange, while Horace Walpole, George III, and Queen Charlotte were active critics and observers of these foppish men.


"work of real academic merit" — Gareth Wyn Davies, World of Interiors



"a beautifully illustrated and richly informative book" – Norma Clark, TLS


 Beautifully illustrated with an array of prints, paintings and objects from world collections, men’s fashion is discussed within the context of a range of design and decorative arts, including textiles, embroidery, jewellery, ceramics and glass. The rapid transmission of macaroni imagery and English fashionable ideas to countries such as France and Sweden, is also recounted here in this fascinating cross-cultural and comparative study.


The research undertaken for Pretty Gentlemen included extensive networks of international funding 2014-2018: Fashioning the Early Modern, an EU Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) grant, Stockholm University Centre for Fashion Studies, and a Finland Distinguished Professorship for McNeil at Aalto University Helsinki.




Pretty Gentlemen has received extensive review in both iconic popular and academic publications. They include the Times Literary Supplement : ‘a beautifully illustrated and richly informative book. Almost every page offers an unfamiliar image, confidently described’, World of Interiors: ‘wry rather than dry’; and The New Yorker (2 July 2018). Literary Review: ‘it allows the archive to illustrate how the category of masculinity has always been’.


Colin McDowall in Business of Fashion [online] calls the work ‘an instant classic’ and notes: ‘Pretty Gentlemen is welcome because it is a rarity among books concerning costume. It bucks the trend so common in those written by academics in that the prose dances along effortlessly in a way that frequently almost reads as a novel by Jane Austen. And that makes it almost unique in scholarly works on any era and its dress.’


Marina Warner named it one of her Books of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement December 2018.



Peter McNeil is distinguished professor at University of Technology Sydney and Aalto University, Helsinki.