Fopped Up: Ellison, Voltaire, Adam Ant, And The Grunge Depp

Sunday’s post about Fancy Men generated the usual excellent commentary, some of which discussed whether the Fancy Man of today was the “fop” of yesterday. At about the same time, I had a conversation about a fellow I know who, having been a massive and undoubted success in a very difficult field, decided that he wanted to be known instead as a leader in a completely different, and much less admirable, field. This seemed like a good excuse for a quick-ish romp through the idea of foppery and why it mirrors, but does not quite envelop, the idea of the Fancy Man. We’ll make this one quick, because I have an early day tomorrow. I promise.

Wikipedia, which is never wrong, says that “The pejorative term (fop) today carries the connotation of a person, usually male, who is overly concerned with trivial matters (especially matters of fashion) and who affects elite social standing.” The associated term dandy typically suggests someone who is obsessed with looking good to the exclusion of everything else.

Last week, we talked about how the Fancy Men confuse signified with signifier. Example. My friend Jesse Lazare wears a Rolex Daytona because it was given to him when he won the Rolex 24. That’s a direct relationship between signified (being a Daytona winner) and signifier (wearing a Daytona watch). The fellow who wears a Daytona watch because he thinks it reinforces his “car expert” identity, or because all the other rich guys in his PCA chapter have one? Now we’re wandering into Fancy Man territory. Wearing a Gulf-colored Heuer Monaco when you’ve never raced for Gulf or seen a green flag while driving a Heuer-sponsored car? That’s as fancy as Fancy can get.

Contrast that with the fop, who dresses well because he wants to be mistaken for “the quality”, which is to say the aristocracy, or the dandy, who dresses well for the pure joy of it. Ralph Ellison describes an African-American fop subculture during the opening of Invisible Man, in which the narrator wonders about the Black men who work themselves to death at menial labor so they can put on “zoot suits” and “signify” during the evenings. There’s also a subset of fop-and-dandy culture that concerns itself with impressing women; that subset is first seen in Chaucer but we see it in today’s “street style” superstars who might live in subsidized housing but who will wear five thousand dollars’ worth of Yeezys and gold chains to impress, and potentially seduce, a woman.

From the “PUA” movement we have the “peacocks”, who wear outrageous clothing to catch the attention of girls in bars. Peacocking is much derided but it works, largely because it provides an opportunity to start a conversation. The infamous pick-up artist “Mystery” commonly wore a giant furry top hat to the bars. It got women talking, which is half the battle nowadays. Last but not least, we have the “grunge fop” movement, where people dress memorably but often shabbily, again for the purpose of being memorable and/or unique. This one hits a little too close to home for me; my father used to publicly pillory me for making expensive clothes look bad, a talent which I still possess in spades. Johnny Depp in the “Pirates” movies is the model for Grunge Fop.

Fops, therefore, dress up for the joy of it, or to impersonate the upper class, or to drop panties/boxers/gender-neutral-undergarments. The Fancy Men dress up because they desperately want to be someone interesting but it’s easier to dress like an interesting person than it is to become an interesting person. So while there’s certainly some overlap between fops, dandys (dandies?), and Fancy Men, I think it’s the same kind of overlap that makes dolphins, porpoises, and sharks all look alike from a distance. The presentation might be similar but the genetic history is very different.

Which leads to the question: The Fancy Man seems to be most comfortable on Instagram, which lets you post a photo and a story together. Did Fancy Men, as defined above, exist before The Current Year, or were they called into existence by social media? This is a tough question. Feel free to offer your opinion in the comments. The best example that comes immediately to mind is the “hipster” of the fifties, who affected the dress and speech patterns of jazz musicians to partake of their social credibility — but if we allow hipsters we also have to allow all the Sons Of Dentistry out there who buy a Harley at the age of forty-five and immediately start dressing like Sonny Barger. At that point we are awfully far away from the fellow who thinks he is James Bond because he wears a Ulysse Nardin.

Perhaps there’s a Grand Unification Theory of fops, Fancy Men, dandies, cosplayers, and HOG members. Perhaps that theory goes something like this: There is something hugely comforting in hiding behind an assumed identity. It allows us to interact with the “real world” without revealing our true and vulnerable selves. I got an email a few weeks ago from a reader who expressed mild amazement that I would write about the pain and shame of having potentially caused my first wife’s miscarriage at Altamont in 2008. “How are you able to share such deeply personal stories with a massive crowd of faceless Hagerty readers?” he asked.

I think the best answer I have to that is this: I ask my readers to share in a lot of my joys. Races won, beautiful objects experienced, purchased, or owned. Outrageous travel, remarkable women. Ridiculous jargon, shocking sexual audacity, and repulsive images of the ghetto. If I limit my writing to that stuff — if I tell you about buying twenty thousand dollars’ worth of guitars but neglect to mention that I feel responsible for a girlfriend’s suicide — if I discuss my hilarious attempt to become a pimp but neglect to mention how I destroyed any chance of a life with the woman I loved — then I’m not really an author. I’m a braggart, a fabricator, a character, no different from all those $50K billionaires on Instagram who pose endlessly with borrowed items in prepaid hotel rooms. That’s not honest, but more importantly it’s not interesting.

The problem is that it’s always easier, and more satisfying, to hide behind a fancy facade. It’s a problem that predates Instagram. When Samuel Johnson wrote his Life Of Congreve about the enormously talented playwright and poet William Congreve, he mentions in a footnote that

…[H]e treated the Muses with ingratitude, for having long conversed familiarly with the great, he wished to be considered rather as a man of fashion than of wit; and, when he received a visit from Voltaire, disgusted him by the despicable foppery of desiring to be considered not as an author but a gentleman; to which the Frenchman replied, “that if he had been only a gentleman, he should not have come to visit him.”

There are 7,200 PRS Private Stock guitars out there, of which I own six, and a quarter-million air-cooled Porsche 911s out there, of which I own one. Nobody would read this blog if I presented myself solely as an owner of middle-class affluence tokens. There are simply too many of us, and we are mostly unremarkable. More importantly, none of it truly matters. In the long run we are only worthwhile for what we create and what we accomplish, not what we own, wear, or spend. That’s why “foodies” are viewed with such contempt by decent people. You’re literally defecating the results of your hobby. They’re even worse than watch people, because when someone shits out a watch it’s remarkable enough to merit an entire scene of a Tarantino movie.

The fellow I mentioned at the beginning of this article has accomplished something amazing over the past few decades — I won’t say what it was, because it would be the same as printing his name. It’s that unique. Yet he wants to put that accomplishment behind him to become just another West Coast angel investor and “tech bro”. To which I can only give Voltaire’s response: I wouldn’t go across the country to meet with an “angel investor” or a “tech bro”. Yet this fellow is happiest when he presents himself as such. Maybe he’s right to feel that way. Maybe we’re all on some kind of journey to develop better, cleaner facades. Maybe we’d all be better off, self included, if we gave away nothing but our Instagram-ready images, our Fanciest Selves. As Eliot wrote:

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate

Put another way:

When they saw you kneeling
Crying words that you mean
Opening their eyeballs, eyeballs
Pretending that you’re Al Green, Al Green
Goody two, goody two, goody goody two shoes
Goody two, goody two, goody goody two shoes
Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?
Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?
Subtle innuendos follow
There must be something inside

26 Replies to “Fopped Up: Ellison, Voltaire, Adam Ant, And The Grunge Depp”

  1. AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

    I suspect that some point in their life, EVERYONE has pretended to be something they aren’t. Some by the way they dress, others by the way they present themselves, others still by flat out BS. For some it ends up becoming part of their very existence, others just use it at different times for different reasons.

    Dressing for the occasion is one thing, dressing to the nines when you are stopping at a burger joint for lunch is something else entirely. I keep some nice clothes, even neckties (which I hate wearing) for “occasions”. I certainly wouldn’t show up at my parents funeral wearing jeans and a t-shirt, nor would I get on my bike wearing a suit and tie.

    I wear little to no jewellery, one ring that was a good friends who passed away 6 years ago and was left to me, and a 60’s vintage Elgin self winding watch that was one of my grandfathers.

    Guess I’m an outlier in these “look at meeeee” days. But that’s ok, I would rather be in the background for the most part anyway,.

    Reply
    • AvatarJohn C.

      Interesting the idea of being overdressed, however subjective that, is presumed to be putting on a front and not being ones true self. I don’t see it that way. Sometimes a job or family expectations put you in a uniform, but except for that clothes/jewelry decisions are internal and not done for others approval. There are exceptions, a high school reunion or something but not many.

      Reply
      • AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

        Perhaps my life experiences are different, but I have witnessed it in many different settings, Go to any country themed bar and see how many “cowboys” are in attendance, I will promise that 99% wouldn’t know the difference between a stallion and a gelding and the closest they have ever come to riding a horse, was the coin operated one they rode as a toddler. Also as Jack pointed out, dentist’s and lawyers dressing as outlaw bikers. I have watched, on numerous occasions, someone climb out of a car or truck wearing chaps and a leather vest. Or for that matter, go to any night club on a Friday night. Watch the various characters coming in dressed to kill (often Chinese knockoff’s) that work as a tradesman in real life. But to listen to them, it sounds like they are at a “corner office” level of employment.

        Are there some who dress in expensive/”nice” clothes all the time? Of course. And more power to them them. I just get a kick out of folks who keep different “costumes”, to wear depending on where they are going. Invariably they fail.

        2 old saying’s come to mind; All hat, no cattle. And; $35,000 and 35 miles doesn’t make you a biker.

        Reply
        • AvatarJohn C.

          Those are just costumes as part of an hoped for adventure. Think instead of wearing a coat and tie to church, which used to be standard and the more traditional might still see as the way to go. Inevitably someone will come to you and say this is a come as you are church. What they are really saying is come as we are and don’t let me catch you dressed that way again. Rude and unwelcoming.

          Reply
          • AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

            “Those are just costumes as part of an hoped for adventure”

            Ok, let me put it a different way then. If you’re an hourly worker on a factory floor (I have been), you certainly wouldn’t be wearing a jacket and tie, Dickies or jeans more likely. If you move into supervision (I did), you start wearing khakis and dress shirts. If you move into customer service (I did) or middle management (I did), now comes the jacket and tie. None of these clothing upgrades makes you smarter or a better employee, you’re just wearing the “costume” that your peers are, and are often required by your employer. These days, as a partner in a small business, I can pick and chose when I have to wear the “costume”. If I have a meeting with movers and shakers in a Fortune 500 company, I will dress for the part. I’m more comfortable in jeans and cowboy boots, but have to play the part. I’ll save wearing my “regular” clothes for when I’m on the job site.

            Again, these are just my personal observations and experiences. Yours seem to be different and that’s fine. If we were all alike, it would be a mighty boring world.

          • Avatarrambo furum

            Proper formality, like grooming, is a sign of respect for others. Jack touches on this with the reverse snobbery of inappropriate informality.
            Play-acting is pretty silly, but I abhor this notion that anyone making themselves presentable beyond the loathsome bare minimum of ultra-casual wear is some sort of egotist or fraud. This is especially true when one acknowledges that most traditional clothing, not originally meant for athletics, manual labor, or underwear, is usually more practical and comfortable for actual daily wear. I’m really skeptical of these women that claim clingy synthetic yoga pants and flip flops are comfortable. I’d think a loose dress and some pumps would be less annoying.

          • Avatar-Nate

            ” I’d think a loose dress and some pumps would be less annoying.”

            Yabbutt ;

            Some Women can wear the living hell out of a clingy dress or form fitting pants, Capri’s for example….

            =8-) .

            -Nate

  2. AvatarDavid Florida

    I haven’t wanted to advertise via raiment since I reached the age of fifteen (with the exception of a shirt given to entrants of a certain relay footrace, my receipt of same marking the beginning of the end of my running hobby.) If memory serves, The Most Interesting Man in the World was never seen wearing a used jersey…

    Reply
  3. Avatarltrftc

    I buy the Rexona deodorant with the Williams F1 livery, not only am I a Fancy Man, I’m a failed one at that because of the sad state Williams is in at the moment.

    Reply
    • Avatardejal

      Hehe.

      Williams is almost at a Polynesian WWII cargo cult level of tech.
      Think of their car as a bamboo version of the top runners.

      Reply
  4. AvatarDanio

    “That’s why “foodies” are viewed with such contempt by decent people. You’re literally defecating the results of your hobby. They’re even worse than watch people, because when someone shits out a watch it’s remarkable enough to merit an entire scene of a Tarantino movie.”

    Fantastic.

    Reply
  5. AvatarWhiskeyRiver

    Wouldn’t a fancy man wear a nice watch, nice shoes and nice socks… then quote T.S. Eliot and Adam Ant to convey the notion that he’s intellectually in tune with both ends of the cultural spectrum?

    I don’t know and I don’t particularly care – Just asking for a friend.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      In 2019 I’m afraid that T.S. and Adam are rather narrowly crowded on a single end of the spectrum, the same way that Bach and Miles Davis are now both consumed by the same people. Other than that I have no defense!

      Reply
  6. AvatarSalubrious

    When I was in college, I loved to wear a jacket and tie to class as a quiet act of rebellion against the slovenly culture of the time that had many students wearing sweatpants and tee shirts. Now, a couple decades later, when I am working for a large corporation with a 27-page dress code that mandates Business Formal for my category, I am coming to despise the jacket and tie. The tight labor market has already caused my company to loosen its policies slightly, and I am hopeful that office functionaries like me will one day be able to wear business casual.

    Reply
  7. AvatarDisinterested-Observer

    I have a watch that my dad earned but I did not. I will keep it in case my kids earn it, but considering what it cost I hope they don’t.

    Reply
  8. AvatarAoLetsGo

    Maybe my social and business is too small but I honestly do not know any fops or dandies.
    In my little office fancy clothes do not matter, it is intelligence, aggression and work load.
    Socially it is how flat your belly is, how far and fast you can ride/run/swim or how much you can lift.

    Reply
    • Avatar-Nate

      Not a thing wrong with buying a Harley if that’s what you actually like .

      The ABS helmet and Henna tattooos, on the other hand…..

      Neither of my Harleys ever rode in the back of a truck .

      Why I don’t own a Sport Bike : because I buy what I actually like to ride not what anyone else likes .

      -Nate

      Reply
  9. AvatarRonnie Schreiber

    Ralph Ellison describes an African-American fop subculture during the opening of Invisible Man, in which the narrator wonders about the Black men who work themselves to death at menial labor so they can put on “zoot suits” and “signify” during the evenings.

    To be clear, “signifying” in African-American culture doesn’t have much to do with how “signified” and “signifier” are used in a campus course on semiotics. On second thought, since it has to do with establishing a social hierarchy, maybe it does.

    https://www.thoughtco.com/signifying-definition-1691957
    “African American men in this verbal art form focus their anger, aggression, and frustration into a relatively harmless exchange of wordplay where they can establish their masculinity in verbal ‘battles’ with their peers. This form of signifying lends itself to validating a pecking order style of dominance based on the result of the verbal exchange.”

    Reply
    • AvatarJohn C.

      Leave it to Henry Louis Gates to explain how African American men use misdirection in their “orality?” to make sure the black community is so peaceful. With such insights, it is no wonder that he is so revered.

      In other news the sun will set at 7 am and will rise again at 7 pm.

      Reply
      • AvatarDisinterested-Observer

        Henry Louis Gates is a shill for “23 and me” pseudoscience. He also decided that since his genome showed Irish ancestry that his antecedents must have been owned by Irish people, which shows how much he knows about the history of blacks and the Irish.

        Reply
    • AvatarDomestic Hearse

      Depp has admitted as much, that KR’s clothing, mannerisms, and speech patterns were all his Muse for CJS.

      Reply
  10. Avatarrambo furum

    Was the term LARPing somehow not used in all this talk? Because the charade of mimicking one’s idea of an old-school playboy seems to be just another flavor of live action role playing, just pretending to be something slightly less fantastical than a wizard or knight or whatever other cosplay they do.

    Reply
  11. Avatarhank chinaski

    Men’s (capital M) clothes are either a uniform (I’m here to: give you a ticket, take out your tonsils, take your fast food order, etc) or a tool (to keep out the dirt/grease, blood/vomit/shit, flames/fumes, bullets/shrapnel, etc). Much more than that is playing dress-up, which is for little girls.

    Reply

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