A ruff is a frilly, circular collar that was very popular in Western Europe. It was invented some time in the 1500's. Back then, they were mainly worn by upper-class individuals. Because said individuals were the only ones rich enough to hire artists, you see the trademark collar in so many portraits from that era. They tend to vary in widthnote and thickness, but they are always pleated fabric collars. They are usually white, although other colors, such as black or red, may be used instead.
There's a reason why only the wealthiest were able to wear one (at first, that is, but we'll get to that soon): Every time a ruff was washed, some servant had to break out the starch and the goffering iron and press each back-and-forth curve. In other words, it was quite a hassle, and all for a mere accessory. It would seem that those wearing the ruffs valued them highly.
It should be noted that the nobles weren't the only ones who wore ruffs. As they were becoming popular among the nobles, they were also being picked up by people who associated with them: Servants, priests, and especially performers. This is why Shakespearean actors are commonly portrayed wearing ruffs. However, it seems that none had taken as much of a liking to the ruff as clowns had. Once The Jester began wearing one, it became a standard feature of clown costumes and remains so to this day, long after ruffs fell out of fashion with the upper class.
As a result of their Real Life popularity, or maybe just because they look a little silly (especially big, wide ones!), these collars are fairly common in the media. If a fictional monarch is wearing one, then this is likely to become a subtrope of Requisite Royal Regalia. However, this trope can still apply even if the character isn't aristocratic. Perhaps he or she serves an aristocrat. Perhaps he or she isn't an aristocrat but aspires to become one. Maybe he or she just has a bad case of Small Name, Big Ego. Either way, all a ruff-wearer has to do to count as an example is to be - or act - powerful.
Although the ones wearing the ruffs will most likely find them fashionable, most others will find them ridiculous. As a result, ruffs in fiction are just as likely to be Played for Laughs as they are to be Played Straight.
How the ruff is portrayed - in illustrated or animated works, that is - tends to vary. Some artists go to the trouble of drawing all the details to create a realistically pleated collar. A simpler way out is to just draw a thick disk with a wavy line along the side.
- A companion character to The Burger King is Sir Thomas, the Duke of Doubt. A curmudgeon with a ruff collar, Sir Thomas would express doubt about the tastiness of the food or the lowness of the prices only to be consistently proven wrong.
- The Eternal Smile: In the story "Duncan's Kingdom", the normally free-spirited princess wears one when she mourns at her father's funeral.
- The seahorse from The Little Mermaid wears one, to signify that he is a member of King Triton's court.
- In Minions, there is a Grumpy Old Man who guards the Queen's crown. His ruff not only indicates that he serves a monarch, but that his fashion sense is a little outdated.
- Pampered pooch Percy from Disney's Pocahontas had one while lounging in Governor Ratcliffe's tent. It was torn to shreds in his furious pursuit of the Rascally Raccoon Meeko.
- Little John wears one in Disney's Robin Hood while posing as Sir Reginald, Duke of Chutney. This guise allows him to hover near Prince John during the phony archery tournament meant to snare Robin Hood.
- Shrek and Fiona sport these when they're wearing ridiculously fancy clothes in Shrek the Third.
- Belle's sisters in Jean Cocteu's Beauty and the Beast wear this as part of their over-the-top fancy attire. They represent greed and selfishness and therefore have a style that reinforces their excessive lifestyles. While not from royalty, they are (or were) the daughters of a rich and successful merchant and used to hobnob with the aristocracy and the royalty. Belle, on the other hand, while still wearing pimped out dresses under The Beast's guard, dresses in a simpler way in contrast, and her wardrobes expose her neck, showing her simplicity and honest approach at life.
- In the Lord Peter Wimsey novel Thrones, Dominations, Harriet's mourning dress has "a sort of Elizabethan collar," white and pleated. Her dressmaker has a dozen of them made up for her, and she loans one to Rosamund Harwell which ends up being a clue in Rosamund's murder: It's supposed to go with a black mourning dress, not the white dress her corpse was found wearing.
- Blackadder II: Lord Percy Percy wears an outrageously huge frill in one scene. After Blackadder mocks him for it he comes back wearing a very small one.
Blackadder: What are you wearing round your neck?
Percy: Ah! It's my new ruff!
Blackadder: You look like a bird who's swallowed a plate!
Percy: It's the latest fashion actually and as a matter of fact it makes me look rather sexy!
Blackadder: To another plate swallowing bird perhaps. If it was blind and hadn't had it in months.
Blackadder: Oh yes Percy, and the new ruff?
Percy: Ah, the fashion today is towards the tiny.
Blackadder: In that case, Percy, you have the most fashionable brain in London.
- In an unusual non-royalty example, Deviot from Power Rangers Lost Galaxy (and his counterpart Biznella from Seijuu Sentai Gingaman) have one of these around their necks- and they're robots. Apparently the motif was that of a pierrot, but this doesn't really come across at all and he just looks goofy- and it's even worse as he has a giant ponytail of "robo-hair" that trails down the back of his ruff- making him a Fashion-Victim Villain. But the character's actions- Magnificent Bastard doesn't even begin to cover it- help make up for his odd appearance.
- Avant-garde singer/musician/artist Klaus Nomi sometimes wore a ruff in the latter part of his career, when he wasn't wearing high collars. He wore these items to hide his Kaposi's Sarcoma (Nomi had developed AIDS, and the tumor, which developed on his neck, was one of the opportunistic diseases that killed him).
- The Duke in The Wizard of Id started out wearing a ruff, but this feature vanished to reduce pencil mileage in a daily syndicated strip.
- Exploited in a supplemental Dungeons & Dragons book which recommends that rogues wear outfits with ruffs to have a better chance at infiltrating aristocratic places.
- The ghost from Haunt The House wears one. Although we know very little about him, his fancy ruff and his fancy mansion imply that he is of noble heritage. The "arrogant" aspect of the trope also shines through - it is pretty mean of him to scare all those people away.
- The all-powerful King of all Cosmos from Katamari Damacy wears a very wide one.
- King Omelet from Little King's Story wears a ruff, and is much more intelligent and refined than most of the other kings in the game.
- Cackletta from Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga wears one that resembles a flower's petals. Although she is not from a noble background, as far as we know, her fancy style of clothing symbolizes her aspirations of taking over a kingdom.
- In the Newgrounds game Murder (no relation to a certain game mode in Garry's Mod), you play as an aristocratic-looking man who tries to assassinate a king and usurp his power. Once he does so, the king's servants try to do the same to him. Many of the servants wear ruffs, as does the player character himself.
- In Nightmare Busters, the Final Boss is an impish-looking creature called the Tyrant, who rides around on a floating throne from which he attacks you with magic projectiles. He wears a thin, almost pointy-looking ruff.
- The Pokémon Frillish has a natural frill around its neck that resembles a ruff, regardless of what gender the Frillish is. However, when Frillish evolves into the royal-looking Pokemon Jellicent, it only has a ruff if it is female. Male Jellicents' ruffs are replaced by giant mustaches.
- The Sorceress from Spyro: Year of the Dragon is a vain, tyrannic ruler who wears a fancy ruff.
- Queen Nakhta in The Pirate's Fate wears one, as part of her overall Elizabethan design. In one route she gets a new one, even bigger and more impractical, more resembling a cobra's hood than a fashion statement.
- Played with in one Hark! A Vagrant strip, which features a court jester who wears one of these. While the jester does serve a king and queen, his behavior is very uncouth.
- The Garfield Show: The Evil Chancellor from the episode "Furry Tales" wears a red ruff to compliment his black outfit.
- Amusingly, in the Silly Symphonies short The Golden Touch, King Midas' cat wears one, implying that Midas is so rich that he's able to afford such a fancy accessory for his pet!
- In the Silly Symphony Music Land, the Queen of the Land of Symphony wears one. Fitting, as she is a rather strict, uptight ruler.
- One is also worn by the Queen Ant in The Grasshopper and the Ants.
- We've already noted that this trope is Truth in Television, but Queen Elizabeth I takes the cake. Compared to the other European ruffs, hers was somewhat bigger and stiffer, and it was imposed to her subjects.
- William Shakespeare is almost always portrayed as wearing one. Fitting, as he was well-respected by everyone in his time, from aristocrats to the lower-class, because of his beautiful writing, and as a result became very successful and wealthy.
- IKEA offers the "Queen's Collar" as part of their LATTJO costume set. "Encourages role play which helps children to develop social skills by imitating grown-ups and inventing their own roles."
- There are still some people who wear ruffs as part of their jobs. In particular, priests of the Church of Denmark (Denmark's established Lutheran church) wear thin but wide ruffs when leading services.
- Note that this tradition started for a practical reason. When powdered wigs became fashionable in the 18th century, the ruffs were useful in keeping the powder off the black robes worn by the priests. And while the powdered wigs went away, the ruffs stayed on.