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What is Panache?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Panache is a word of French origin which refers to a flamboyant or spirited display. It is generally associated with a rather grand setting, and it can also be used an adjective to describe particularly dashing or elegant individuals. A similar word is élan, another word of French origin that is used to describe great enthusiasm and vigor.

This word is derived from the Old French pennache, which refers to a plume of feathers. A panache was originally a tuft of feathers worn in a helmet or hat, and the image became iconic thanks to French king Henri IV, who ordered his troops to follow his panache into battle. Henri IV was famous for being spirited, bold, and courageous, and over time, the word came to be associated more generally with the spirit of Henry IV, rather than a feather plume.

The idea was popularized in the 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac, in which the lead character embodies the spirit of panache. He is portrayed as extremely bold, generous, carefree, and spirited, with a courteous manner and a tendency for dramatic gestures. The popularization of the play in France led to the establishment of this quality as a respected virtue, and with the translation of the play, the idea was introduced to the rest of the world.

Someone who demonstrates panache is often stylish and well mannered, in addition to being flamboyant, and the trait of courage is also associated with this quality. The term is often used to describe people who can handle a wide variety of situations with grace and aplomb, drawing on their reserves of courage and common sense to see their way out of difficulties that may seem insurmountable. Such a person is equally at home at an exclusive dinner party as he or she is in a hostage situation. This person also often can't resist making a bit of a display, whether in the form of turning heads with a daring gown, or excelling at sports.

In many cultures, some form of panache is considered to be a valuable trait in both men and women, and people may aspire to have it at some point in their lives. One could argue that this quality is simply something someone is born with, rather than something which can be made, although people are certainly welcome to try. At the very least, being well mannered and fearless can go a long way.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By stolaf23 — On Sep 20, 2011

I am a teacher, and I try to even run my classroom with a little panache. I try to dress modestly, but with interesting colors and unexpected accessories. I also try to be a leader to my students but still act quirky or dramatic when it seems like a good time to do so.

I don't know if I always succeed, but it's fun to think that I could be entertaining them as I educate.

By wavy58 — On Sep 19, 2011

A waiter at my favorite restaurant definitely has panache. He treats all of his customers the same way, and he caters to their needs while sprinkling the conversation with humor and dramatic expressions.

He always knows the right thing to say, and he keeps the mood light. At the same time, his personality is colorful, and he makes everyone laugh. I imagine he does well when it comes to tips.

The other waiters and waitresses there are polite and attentive, but this guy just adds something extra to the whole experience. I am glad every time that we get to be in his section, because I know that I will be entertained.

By shell4life — On Sep 19, 2011

My boss excels at her job, and this is due in large part to her panache. While she always shows courtesy to others, she does so with flamboyancy.

She tends to dramatize certain words or emotions. However, rather than appearing fake, it endears her to others. They find her both humorous and lovely to deal with.

Though she shops at discount stores, the clothes she picks out make her look wealthy and glamorous. Her perfume smells like it must have cost a fortune, but she got it from a clearance bin. Others can relate to her, but her panache sets her apart from them.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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