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.
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.
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.
|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 Notice. And 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.
Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons