The fop (also known as a fribble, popinjay, fashion-monger, or clotheshorse) 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 (if he is not already one).
A fop is also referred to as a ‘beau’, as in the Restoration comedies The Beaux’ Stratagem (1707) by George Farquhar, The Beau Defeated (1700) by Mary Pix, or the real-life Beau Nash, Master of Ceremonies at Bath, or Regency celebrity, Beau Brummell.
In English, the word fop is older, but the meaning of an overdressed, frivolously fastidious dandy may not be; Shakespeare’s King Lear contains the word, in the general sense of a fool, and before him, Thomas Nashe, in Summer’s Last Will and Testament (1592, printed 1600): “the Idiot, our Playmaker. He, like a Fop & an Ass must be making himself a public laughing-stock.” Osric in Hamlet has a great deal of the fop’s affected manner, and much of the plot of Twelfth Night revolves around tricking the puritan Malvolio into dressing as a fop.
One of the first full-blown appearances of the stereotype on the stage is Molière’s well known play from 1671, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.
“Fop” was widely used as a derogatory epithet to tar a broad range of persons by the early years of the 18th century; many of these might not have been considered showy lightweights at the time, and it is possible that its meaning had been blunted by this time.
In the first decade of the 20th century, fictional heroes began to 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 secret identity, Don Diego de la Vega. This continued with the pulp fiction and radio heroes of the 1920s and 30s and expanded with the coming of comic books. The fashion and socializing aspects of being a fop are present in some interpretations of Batman’s second identity Bruce Wayne. These became clichéd.