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There haven't been any "men's fashions" worthy of the name since Louie the Sixteenth got the axe.
-- Steve Gustafson

The fop or dandy is a stock character who appears from time to time in fiction. He is a person who makes a habit of fastidiously overdressing and putting on airs, aspiring to be viewed as an aristocrat. The practice of dandyism was a cultural habit that began in France in the eighteenth century, and spread to England in the nineteenth century, during which England returned it to France. In English, the word fop is older, but the meaning of an overdressed, frivolously fastidious man may not be; Shakespeare's King Lear contains the word, in the general sense of a fool. Osric in Hamlet has a great deal of the manner.

Molière's Bourgeois Gentilhomme practices fencing
One of the first full-blown appearances of the stereotype on the stage is Molière's well known play from 1671, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. This play takes for granted the social structure of France at the time. Its central premise concerns M. Jourdain, a bourgeois, a member of the middle class, attempting to remake himself as an aristocrat and a "gentleman". The play's comedy comes from the title character's ridiculous overdressing, and clueless statements. One famous passage has Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme expressing surprise that he has been speaking prose all his life, unawares.

The word dandy appears in the English language shortly afterwards, in about 1780; its origin is unknown. Dandies become much more common in British society during the Regency period, during which the most famous dandy of them all, Beau Brummell, was an associate of Prince (and King) George IV; he was an early celebrity, famous chiefly for being a clothes-horse. Brummell inherited a fortune of thirty thousand pounds, which he spent mostly on costume and high living, until he suffered the typical fate of the dandy, and fled from his creditors to France, and ultimately died in a lunatic asylum.

During his heyday, though, Brummell's dicta on fashion and etiquette reigned supreme. After his death in 1840, Brummell's habits of dress and fashion were much imitated, especially, in France, where, in an unusual mixture, they became especially the rage in bohemian quarters. People of more notable accomplishments than Brummell adopted the pose as well; Lord Byron occasionally dressed the part of the fop, and helped reintroduce the frilly, lace-cuffed and collared "poet shirt," which was in danger of becoming old-fashioned during the period of his career.

In France the practice was known by the English word, as dandyisme. The poet Charles Baudelaire wrote that an aspiring dandy must have "no profession other than elegance. . . no other status but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons. . . . The dandy must aspire to be sublime without interruption; he must live and sleep before a mirror." Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly wrote an essay on The Anatomy of Dandyism, which was devoted in large measure to examining the career of Beau Brummell. By their elaborate care as to their costume, French bohemian dandies, like their less well dressed bohemian brethren, sought to convey their contempt for and superiority to bourgeois society by their dress and way of life. It is little wonder that the French dandies acquired a reputation for decadence. Their fancy-dress bohemianism became a major influence on the Symbolist movement in French literature during the latter part of the nineteenth century.

In some works of fiction, heroes pose as fops in order to conceal their true activities. Sir Percy Blakeney of The Scarlet Pimpernel is a well known example of this tendency; Sir Percy cultivates the image of being an overdressed and ineffectual social butterfly, the last person anyone would imagine being capable of dashing heroism. A similar image is cultivated by Zorro's civilian identity, Don Diego de la Vega. The fashion and socializing aspects of being a fop are present in some interpretations of Batman's second identity Bruce Wayne; the retiring and ineffectual parts of the stereotype are more a part of Superman's routine as Clark Kent.

A more recent and minor trend is "fop-rock", in which the performers don eighteenth century wigs, lace cravats, and similar costumes to perform, a minor movement that would appear to owe something to glam rock and the New Romantic movement. Adam Ant of Adam and the Ants would seem to be a forerunner of the trend, who occasionally performed in elaborate highwayman outfits.