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Wednesday, December 28, 2011


    I have a bit I do in conversation about "DANDIES VS. FOPS"- understanding the difference is key to understanding the meaning of personal style.  Both the Dandy and the Fop are archetypes for contrasting methods of the individual personality and it's relationship with groups of people.

    A significant similarity between the two types is that they are both hyper-conscious of their status vis a vis other people.  The "inventor" of the Dandy style- Beau Brummel- was an actual person, who came from an un-gentlemanly background- his father was a merchant- and his inheritance was only 20,000 pounds- a pittance in those days.

   To give you a yardstick for measuring how pitiable Brummel's inheritance was, in George Gissing's New Grub Street, an inheritance of 10,000 pounds is tantamount to making a woman "unmarriageable."  Brummel compensated for his lack of status by cultivating what today we call "a sense of personal style."  Unlike the personal style of the fop, which I will get to in a paragraph, the personal style of the dandy is reasonable congruent to the personal style of a modern man or woman:  rigorously hygienic, fastidious attention to matters of dress, sharp witted, careless with money.  Part of the "meaning" of Dandy-ism was, ironically, to strip away affectations from personal style.  How ironic then that moderns often use the word "Dandy" to mean a surfeit of personal affectations.  Really, that person is a Fop.

  The Fop precedes the Dandy in time. The Fop is a stereotype of the stylish man about Court from France, interpreted by English men about Court.  Unlike the Dandy, who's attributes could find him a men's magazine tomorrow, the Fop was stereotyped by affectations that have not ages as well.

  The Fop was characterized by garish white, pan-cake make-up, elaborate wigs, over-dressing and using French styles and vocabulary.  In almost every sense, except perhaps in terms of attitude towards money and spending, the Dandy and Fop are opposites- consciously opposed from the perspective of the Dandy.  For the Fop, the Dandy is simply an "other"- to be laughed at, until of course, the point in time where all the Fops became Dandies.  Ultimately, that eclipse was tied to the decline of the Court itself in the period of Brummel's life- 1778-1840.  The court based Fop was replaced by the city based Dandy.

  You can easily imagine a young Gentleman coming to London during the period of Brummel's ascendancy and "choosing" to be a Dandy rather then a Fop, while the reverse hardly seems possible.  I would argue that the Dandy added a concern with authenticity to the realm of personal style.  The Fop, a mincing, french speaking dude wearing a huge wig and pan cake make up, whatever else he may be (dashing, witty.) is not authentic under any circumstance- that's the whole point of being a Fop- to emulate something that nobody is naturally.

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