Master or Jester:

Colley Cibber as Lord Foppington in John Vanbrugh‘s The Relapse (1696).

For the meanings of the acronym FOP, see FOP (disambiguation).

Fop became a pejorative term for a foolish man over-concerned with his appearance and clothes in 17th century England. Some of the very many similar alternative terms are: “coxcomb,” fribble,popinjay” (meaning “parrot”), fashion-monger, and “ninny.” “Macaroni” was another term, of the 18th century, more specifically concerned with fashion.

Once a year my wife and I attend a mid-summer party thrown at the compound of an old friend who married very well and for this one day we mingle with those above our current station in life. It is a crowd of mostly very creative and successful people. Artists, architects, writers, restaurateurs, gallery owners, designers… young, stylish, wealthy, you get the picture. Being that this is Seattle, these urban aristocrats nearly unanimously share a leftist ideology that is quite jarring when viewed in juxtaposition to their rather extravagant life styles, but that is not what I’m going to talk about here. Wealthy collectivists are an easy enough bunch to figure out. What is more interesting and more difficult to figure is a type of city dwelling male, both gay and straight, who seem to serve as court jesters of sorts at gatherings such as this one. Not yet old but not young either, these grown men have dismissed traits traditionally thought as those signifying manhood; stoicism, confidence, modesty, gainful employment, to pursue obsessively and exclusively the passing whims of fashion and narcissistic attitudes of the young and foolish. They are usually supported financially by spouse or partner in some silly endeavor and would clearly founder if suddenly forced to face life on their own. I found myself in the company of such a man man this past Sunday.

He was a coffee colored fellow of about forty, in brown silk short sleeves and knee length dress trousers. Below his pant cuffs were carefully color coordinated mid-calf sheer hose supported by rarely seen in this day and age black garters. His legs appeared closely shaven and like his highly polished shoes reflected the afternoon sun on their surface. Phillip Johnson style eye wear and an expertly woven Ecuadorean Monte Christo topped this gentleman’s finely honed 1962 dog days on a Baltimore street corner look. I engaged in a few minutes of conversation with this man, a conversation I attempted to steer toward the usual subjects of  small talk in such a setting, the warm weather, the beautiful grounds and gardens, the graciousness of our hosts. It soon became apparent however that while my idea of small talk consisted of casual polite discussion of whatever was at hand, his consisted of a more literal interpretation as he spoke of small things. I commented on the beauty of the home and grounds, he inquired as to my opinion on what I thought of his hat. It took him months to find just the right one for this gathering you know. Pointing out a long, perfectly radiused concrete retaining wall that I thought to be particularly skillfully constructed, he offered his opinion on the boring appearance and personalities of the other guests. At this point, being unable to resist any longer, I asked what he did for a living and was unsurprised when he replied that he was a performance artist whose “art” involved recreating live street scenes from vintage photographs. When I insensitively and perhaps a bit sarcastically suggested that instead of a chilled Mojito in hand he might try a warm Carling Black Label, you know, in the interests of authenticity,  just like that our little talk was over. He primly collected himself and walked away without another word. It was just as well. I was beginning to think that a conversation with one of the old black and whites in which he derived his artistic inspiration would have been more stimulating.

When the young act with this level of self infatuation it can be amusing. Annoying sometimes but something you expect they will grow out of with a bit of life experience. As I pass my fiftieth year it is my observation that more and more men are choosing to remain behind in this realm of the young and foolish well into their forties and beyond, long past the point of appearing a bit rediculous. It seems that aristocrats will always need their fops for amusement. I just can’t figure why you would want to be one.

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17 responses to “Master or Jester:

  1. So his performance art is truly reflective of himself – utterly absorbed with surface appearance, completely insensible to and incurious about the existence of any depth or meaning behind the image. I’m guessing he recreates scenes from the past simply because if he did scenes from the present, nobody would notice. And the clothes? Again, they make him stand out. Since he is his appearance and nothing more, he would literally not exist if people weren’t staring at him.

  2. “I just can’t figure why you would want to be one.”

    Because he has absolutely nothing, but nothing, going for him in the entire world. Dead or destitute by 50. Depend upon it.

  3. Thank you, Mark, for not actually mentioning me by name up there. I never told Gerard about my street performances, and I would prefer he not find out. And of course if he knew how I dress, he would be on me all the time to borrow my bloomers.

  4. No miming going on, but I fear that if you saw my collection of powdered wigs you would stalk me ’til my marriage collapsed.

  5. Not to worry Andy, I can keep a secret. Even from the all knowing…all seeing Gerard.
    I’ll bet you do know that guy Daphne. I’m sure Austin has more than it’s share of useless fops.

  6. Clowns creep me out. And booted women who stalk guys wearing powdered wigs.

  7. Short story of the week.

    I’ve lived in Seattle my entire life and I’ve attended innumerable parties such as this one described. Every single, last one of them had a significant Republican component. Seattle, like everywhere else in this nation has a solid core of wealthy, conservative types. ‘Unanimously share a leftist ideology’?

    I wish.

    Of course walk around with a chip one your shoulder…

  8. I have all my hair Daphne with just a slight touch of white at the temples. My wife & I get along beautifully. She’s gorgeous to boot.

    Actually you are my playground. But don’t worry. Your insults and complaints interesting enough for the long haul.

    ‘Pussy male’??!!??

    Really.

  9. Dear Arthur,

    Every man has all his hair and a gorgeous wife to boot…on the internet..

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