• (Of a person or their appearance) Out-of-date, unfashionable, or shabby


Hardly anyone wants to risk being called frumpy. To the contrary, many of us long for our personal style choices to be hailed as the epitome of fashion. Maybe you're not a fashionista, but you probably at least make a point to buy clothes that make you feel good and accentuate your best features. However, if you do want to wear your grandma's clothes for comfort or vintage appeal, you might want to give those garments a sartorial facelift before you hit the streets - unless you don't mind the label frumpy!

The word frumpy is used to describe someone (usually a woman) or their clothing as unappealing and old-fashioned. When most of us hear this word, we rightly think of something our parents or grandparents would wear, unless of course they are attempting to be "hip" or "with the times," as they might say. Usually, frumpy clothes are ones that are loose or ill-fitting and worn in a plain style that makes you either yawn or cringe (or both), like a lumpy gray shirt tucked into a pair of dreadful "mom jeans." The appalling color (or lack thereof) of the garment or outfit could also be the culprit of an outfit's frumpishness: pairing a fuchsia windbreaker with green parachute pants might just land you onto the frumpiest list. People who are described as frumpy are those who find themselves wearing these outdated (and often wrinkly) styles. Nevertheless, horrendous outfits aren't the only things that make someone look frumpy. You might have woken up late one day without time to tame your frumpy hairdo. Whether it's your clothes that look like they're from another (unforgettable) decade, or your wacky cosmetic application, when you're frumpy people might encourage you to take another look in the mirror. Sometimes frumpy is more about person's feelings, attitude or state-of-mind rather than clothes. If you find yourself feeling lumpy or boring, or even a little wonky, when you walk outside, chances are that frumpy could very well describe you rather than your outfit.

Example: I told my sister to go home and change after seeing her in a frumpy and unflattering skirt.

Example: If your makeup has you looking like one of the Golden Girls, you might be called frumpy, especially if you're nowhere near their age!


The word frumpy seems to have come from the Middle Dutch word verrompelen, and later the English word frumple, meaning "to wrinkle" or "to crumple," which corresponds fittingly to the baggy or crinkled nature of many frumpy garments. Some sources indicate that frumpy may have also been a derivative of the English noun frump, adapted from its verb form which originally referred to joking or mocking. Either way, this lineage would help shed some light on the way that frumpy people or attire are often objects of ridicule. We see the word frumpy, first meaning cantankerous in the mid-18th century, making its way to its modern English usage around the early 19th century.

Derivative Words

Frumpish: This adjective can be used interchangeably with frumpy to denote the out-of-date quality of clothing, etc.

Example: Her dad suggested that she wear a frumpish pair of corduroys to keep warm.

Frumpily: This adverb describes something that is done in an old-fashioned and unappealing way.

Example: She frumpily hobbled down the steps in her rollers and terrycloth bathrobe.

Frumpiness: This noun refers to the plainness or lack of style of an outfit or a person.

Example: Our teacher, dressed in regular, drab attire, looked like the definition of frumpiness.

Frumpishness: This noun could be used in lieu of frumpiness to signify a lack of sartorial sense.

Example: Dad's ugly Christmas sweater wasn't just ugly- it was the height of frumpishness.

Frump: This noun refers to someone who is unkempt or homely in their appearance. This word can also denote a person who has a dispassionate, and somewhat unruffled, attitude, inviting others to label them as apathetic, or a bore.

Example: The way Mrs. France would cross her stocking covered legs when she awaited a reply made her look like a real frump.

Frumpier: This comparative adjective describes someone or someone that is more unfashionable than another.

Example: Just when we though grandma couldn't get any frumpier, she whipped out her stiff denim skirt.

Frumpiest: This superlative adjective denotes the highest degree of dowdiness.

Example: The old cat lady down the street might just be the frumpiest person I've ever met.

In Literature

From Charles Dickens' David Copperfield:

I have been a grumpy, frumpy, wayward sort of a woman, a good many years. I am still, and I always shall be. But you and I have done one another some good, Trot - at all events, you have done me good, my dear; and division must not come between us, at this time of day.

David Copperfield's aunt Betsey looks back on her life and realizes that she has not been the nicest person over the years. She tells David that even though she has acted like an old-fashioned (i.e. frumpy) and cold old woman, she truly loves and appreciates him, no matter what she might say.

In Pop Culture

From Marie Claire Fashion Magazine, "The Fashionable Way to Wear Sweatpants":

When it comes to choosing the style that's right for you, look to relaxed, yet form-fitting silhouettes that aren't frumpy, as well as details that accentuate your personal style. You want each pair of sweats to feel like an extension of your wardrobe, not just pajama pants you've thrown on underneath your regular clothes.

Here, we are getting the scoop on one of the latest fashion trends: wearing sweatpants when you're not trying to sweat. This author summarizes the do's and don'ts of the trend by reminding her readers that it's all about balance when you're looking to be fashionable instead of frumpy.


  • Lumpy clothes look frumpy.


Fashion, Clothes

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of frumpy. Did you use frumpy in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.