When considering how to be a gentleman, look at history, for examples, while turning the eye to the modern world, for contemporary customs. By tradition, a gentleman represented an ideal consisting of etiquette, poise, professionalism and something else that seems more difficult to quantify – as the French say, a certain “I don’t know what”. This natural suavite ties together his persona.
The modern gentleman can set himself apart from his peers by mastering not only traditional etiquette, but useful skills for 21st century social situations.
Projecting the Image of a Gentleman
The gentleman’s mindset focuses on appearance and perception. The proper gentleman, even during the Victorian era, had more to do with projecting an image than reflecting real character. Becoming a gentleman does not assume moral superiority. Learning how to be a gentleman does not make you a better person, but it does involve showing outward respect to others.
Being gentlemanly is about projecting an image, but also about a certain behavior. By choosing to live by a certain code, one learns to avoid their more boorish impulses.
A gentleman may experience anxious feelings, fear, or discomfort in certain situations, just as any human being would. For many, certain societal traditions may feel awkward. However, a gentleman learns to function and flourish within these environments, by mastering his approach.
A gentlemen fills a role, sometimes projecting a sensibility that he’s not feeling inside. By working the room the way an actor would, a gentleman can overcome limitations and leave a positive lasting impression.
Finding a Role Model
During the golden age of cinema, leading men came and went, capturing the minds of audiences – not to mention those of the ladies – by portraying consistent gentleman roles on screen. These men left their mark on popular culture, because they conveyed an admirable ideal to audiences. Men had role models they could emulate, and women had ideals to fantasize about, who were often better-behaved gentlemen than they were apt to encounter in real life.
In deciding how to be a gentleman, one must identify the right traits and look for them in others, as well as themselves. By turning to role models, we see these gentlemanly qualities portrayed and illustrated for us, to do with as we will.
Gentleman Etiquette and Chivalry
A gentleman’s etiquette remains important today, although our society does not always stand on the ceremony it once did. This is not to say etiquette has lost relevance; rather, etiquette evolved into a more subtle language that remains powerful.
Today, informal behaviors dominate many social situations and gradually encroach on the business and professional world, as well. But people still notice manners.
A gentleman should, at minimum, appear conscious of certain traditions. Open doors for ladies. Maintain a firm handshake. Do not wear hats indoors.
In the past, chivalry was standard, but today a gentleman seems impressive, when he remembers such simple rules.
Most important, when learning how to become a gentleman, one must remember to act naturally. Etiquette and manners lose all of their appeal and purpose if they appear forced. Calling attention to one’s own chivalry negates the actions, robbing your conduct of meaning and value.
A gentleman is showing consideration to others – not calling attention to himself. A gentleman is noticed because of his refinement, not because he makes a scene. To do so is to mock the gentleman’s fashion.
In conversation, a gentleman sets himself apart, not by what he says, but in how he listens. Speaking like a gentleman involves awareness of one’s surroundings and paying attention to one’s audience. When speaking to women or men, make eye contact to communicate interest in their stories, or amusement at their demeanor.
A gentleman must choose his words carefully and avoid boorish behavior at all costs. He must be a social politician. While he can address edgier subjects than a politician would, he would do well to remember that off-color remarks can come back to haunt him.
General rules a gentleman should follow include not cursing, not interrupting, and not mocking others, whether they are present or not. A gentleman should not speak louder than the room, nor should he remain stone silent. He must listen with his eyes and ears for the right time to speak, then respond to conversation at hand, instead of forcing it down his own selfish path.
How to Dress Like a Gentleman
In deciding how to dress like a gentleman, one has many past precedents to enhance or pollute their own taste. The textbook gentleman evokes images of top hats and cloaks, in proper Victorian tradition. In fact, a gentleman’s dress encompasses black tie formal wear, the modern “suit and tie look” appropriate for weddings, funerals, and the big meeting, or even casual attire.
Today, a gentleman risks overdressing for many occasions. Wearing a tuxedo to a barbeque risks embarrassment, as much as wearing shorts to a company gathering would. A good pair of jeans and casual shirt suits a modern gentleman just fine, when worn at the appropriate time. Remember, past fashions do not always work in the present.
You’re seeking to become a gentleman, not an antiquarian. A gentleman is the best examplar of his social environment, not an anachronism.
In choosing a wardrobe or a suit of clothes for a specific occasion, discretion makes the difference. Neatness counts, regardless of how formal an event you are attending. This means shirts should look pressed and that all clothing must fit properly.
Avoid flashy clothes that scream insecurity; rather, dress for the occasion and keep styles traditional, perhaps even understated.
Knowing (More Than) One’s Trade
Gentlemen come from many walks of life. In modern society, a gentleman sets himself apart with appropriate, classy behavior, regardless of his actual income. Remember, he projects an image beyond his reality.
This becomes most apparent during discussion about one’s trade or career.
Regardless of a gentleman’s career, he can expect that people he encounters are going to ask questions about it. Inquiries about schooling and occupation come frequently during social gatherings and chance meetings. A gentleman avoids discussing income, and should refrain from asking about someone else’s.
A gentleman must know about more than his own 9-to-5 existence. Every party includes one or two guests who speak of nothing except their own exciting, wonderful careers. Few, if any, real world occupations warrant such focused conversation.
A gentleman digests material enriching to his own persona. One can find such inspiration almost anywhere. In general, reading various subjects improves one’s conversation skills and broaden their knowledge.
A well-read gentleman adopts his role easier than one who trudges to and from work everyday, without curiosity for the outside world.
More Than the Sum of His Parts
In trying to be a gentleman, one must become aware of the glue holding together the best of his kind. A gentleman remains in character, shining for all to see, whether he finds himself in a Monday morning business meeting or a happy hour gathering. At his center, the gentleman strives to become more than the sum of his parts.
Anyone can acquire the clothes, the words or the etiquette. A successful gentleman perfects these attributes as an art form. He possesses stage presence, attracts positive attention, and does so while remaining respectful and dignified.
This natural suaveness must be honed with practice.
Putting This in Perspective
As many may realize, mastering archaic etiquette and chivalry, projecting self confidence, and showing respect to others are not revolutionary ideas. However, we can also study modern society and witness many individuals falling far shy of a gentleman’s ideals. This mindset of manners and poise can serve modern people well in careers and relationships, especially as the gentleman seems a dying breed in many environments today.
Learn how to be a gentle and shine as a beacon to others.