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Regency Fops

Beau Brummel was the quintessential dandy, and many men of his time tried to mimic his style. But some of Brummel’s followers clearly went overboard, which is one reason why we sometimes think of a dandy as being synonymous with a fop – a man who is vain and excessively concerned with his manners and appearance, to the point of ridiculousness.

This 1818 caricature by I.R. Cruikshank of a woman
"toying" with a foppish dandy shows the contempt
many people had for fops - an attitude that hasn't
 changed much since the 19th century.
The word fop has been tossed around in the English language since the 15th century, and for many years it was used to describe a fool of any kind. But over the centuries the word gradually began to apply to men who were vain and dressed foolishly because of their vanity.

Fops were standard characters in many Restoration comedies of the 17th century. These characters had names like Sir Fopling Flutter and Lord Foppington.

English actor playing Lord Foppington in The Relapse,
a 18th century play written by John Vanbrugh. Painting
by John Simon (Wikimedia Commons).

More recently, there have been many fops in popular fiction, including Agatha's Christie's fussy but brilliant Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. 

My favorite fictional fop is Sir Percy Blakeney, aka the Scarlet Pimpernel. In the story Blakeney pretends to be a shallow fop to divert attention away from his true identity as a manly hero who rescues aristocrats from the guillotine during the French Revolution.

This is my favorite movie adaption of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

There are modern-day fops, too. Some critics say Hugh Grant adopts a foppish manner in a lot of his movie roles, like the cad he played in Bridget Jones Diary or the millionaire playboy in Two Weeks NoticeAnd Johnny Depp is distinctly foppish in his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow. His style in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies has been described as “grunge fop.”

 Johnny Depp may have started a
fashion trend  with his "grunge fop"
approach to Captain Jack Sparrow

But back to our Regency fops: many of them appear to have suffered for style, as much if not more than their female counterparts. Witness the corsets some fops would squeeze into to attain a fashionably slim silhouette:

1818 engraving by an unknown artist.
This gentleman  is smiling - he must like the effect of his corset.

This depiction of a fop getting dressed is even more appalling: 

1819 illustration by George Cruikshank. This guy is laced
so tightly it's a wonder he can breathe.

Today's fop may be referred to as an "urban dandy" and the connotations don't seem to be as negative as they were during the Regency. 

Still, men rarely take being called a fop as a compliment. I suppose we can thank Sir Fopley Flutter and Lord Foppington for that. 


  1. How interesting! I love those names: Sir Fopley Flutter and Lord Foppington. :-D Too funny, Maureen! What a nice way to start my morning, with your humorous and enlightening post--thank you! xo Jennifer

    1. Thanks, Jennifer. I hope all your mornings get off to a good start!

  2. Maureen,

    I think of men that wax their chests, arms, and legs as foppish. There are more examples, as I'm sure you can imagine, but they seem abnormally concerned with their appearances to me. Thanks for the blog post. As usual, you continue to intrigue me with your vast knowledge.

    - Momma Cat

    1. Thanks, Momma Cat. I really appreciate your addition to the post. I agree that men who wax their chests, arms and legs seem foppish (except perhaps for the swimmers/cyclists who say they have to wax to increase their speed). You're kind to call my knowledge vast, but it's more like a narrow depth of trivia on a few select topics. I only hope that you and any other readers who come across these posts find them entertaining!


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