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. 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.
Characterizations of the fop also appear in many Restoration comedies, including The Relapse (1696) by John Vanbrugh and George Etherege's The Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter (1676). Vanbrugh planned The Relapse around particular actors at Drury Lane, writing their stage habits, public reputations, and personal relationships into the text. One such actor was Colley Cibber himself, who played the luxuriant fop Lord Foppington in The Relapse.
"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.
A more recent and minor trend is "fop-rock," in which the performers don 18th century wigs, lace cravats, and similar costumes to perform, a minor movement that would appear to owe something to glam rock, visual kei, and the New Romantic movement. Adam Ant of Adam & the Ants would seem to be a forerunner of the trend, who occasionally performed in elaborate highwayman outfits. Other notable examples would be Falco's performance as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the song "Rock Me Amadeus," a #1 hit in the US and the UK in 1986, and Boston-based band The Upper Crust.