frippery

Time to put on the glad rags: fillips and frills dripping with pretty things, fitted out like a flapper or preppy, fit for tripping the light fantastic or frittering time away. The tedious togs of daily wear are basic like milk; this is a frappé. This is frippery.

But frippery is not just finery. We are not talking about the simple solid core of handsome apparel. Frippery flips and flaps and flops on the periphery. You can hear it in the word: the front of it is the fricative-liquid [frɪ] of frills, fringe, fricassee, frisky, frisson, fritter, frizzy, and frivolous, with a French flavour; it bounces off the pp in the middle, skipping, tripping, hopping happily like a peppy puppy; it ends with [əri] as in luxury, hosiery, millinery, periphery, and many others less related. The sound rebounds off the lips from liquid to liquid, flapping like a bit of lace or a nice tie.

Frippery is not always finery of the first rate; indeed, it can have a tawdry air, something meretricious. Consider how Robert Burns used it:

Dame Life, tho’ fiction out may trick her,
And in paste gems and frippery deck her

And Walter Scott:

I was born in the land of talisman and spell, and my childhood lulled by tales which you can only enjoy through the gauzy frippery of a French translation.

And Oliver Goldsmith, in She Stoops to Conquer:

By living a year or two in town, she is as fond of gauze and French frippery as the best of them.

Do we detect a pattern? There is something flippant here, perhaps a fillip to the top of the head. When we talk about frippery, we can never completely divest it of a derisive or deprecatory air. Frippery is like finery said with heavy lids, a raised eyebrow, a little uptick of the chin, a curl of a corner of the mouth. Which is only fair – its origin is Old French frepe ‘rag’, and that has carried through.

So glad rags indeed. Which is why I like frippery better than finery. What’s better than looking sharp? Looking sharp with a knowing smirk.

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