A fop is a stock character who appears in English literature from the 17th and 18th centuries. Although foppish characters appear in more modern literature, they are not usually explicitly identified as “fops,” although they are treated with the same scorn and derision heaped upon historical fops. The concept of the fop has also translated to other mediums, such as film and television, and people with foppish traits may be referred to as “fops” in popular slang in some regions of the world.
The fop is always male, and obsessed with his personal appearance. He is immaculately turned out in the latest fashions, and he has his fingers on the pulse of every major fashion trend, from new hairstyles to a different cut of pants. The fop's obsession with fashion makes him somewhat suspect in the eyes of other men, and he is often referred to as a fool or as a rather vain individual. He also tends to be slightly effeminate, yet he somehow gets the girl in the end, often successfully defeating a male character with more traditionally masculine traits.
Many fops are given a variety of mannerisms and quirks. They tend to have rather affected, pompous speech, and they are known for putting on airs. Other characters may deride the fop behind his back for his self-centered attitude and attempts at wit, with his jokes often falling flat. The fop is also usually wealthy, and his family may treat him with particular indulgence; instead of working in his father's company, for example, he may be allowed to swan about the social scene.
The term “fop” entered the English language from the German in the 1400s. It was originally used to describe any sort of foolish person, and in the 1600s, it acquired the specific sense of a foolish and vain person obsessed with fashion. Other colorful terms from this period to describe foppish individuals include words like popinjay, ninny, and fashion horse.
The fop was routinely lampooned on the English stage in the 17th and 18th centuries, with actors donning ludicrously overstated costumes and plummy accents to showcase the idea that the character was a figure of mockery. Fops were also present in many English novels, especially by satirical authors. During this period, any smartly dressed young gentleman ran the risk of being called a fop, and particular scorn was reserved for older men who adopted foppish fads in an attempt to feel young again.