What Makes A Gentleman, Well, A Gentleman?

What exactly is a gentleman? Historically, it was once described as a man of noble birth, a descendent of an aristocratic lineage. It’s not a position that one can vie for. You’re either born into it, or you’ll never become one. But then there’s also a modern definition of a gentleman too. A modern “gentleman” is a cultured man. A polished, courteous, well-mannered, well-educated man, regardless of his ancestry. And in that sense, any man can, and should vie to become one.

Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in the starring rolls of the film Charade (1963).
Cary Grant, the epitome of a gentleman, pictured here alongside co-star Audrey Hepburn, from the film Charade (1963).
Image by skeeze from Pixabay.

Gentleman – Royals, Nobles, Aristocrats, Wealthy Land Owners, And Their Descendants

The word “gentleman” originated from the Old French word gentilz hom. Loosely translated to any man of “good and courteous conduct”. It is also describes the lowest rank in the English gentry. Basically, any wealthy landowner who doesn’t have an inherited title of any kind. You still want to address him in an honourable manner. But then again, can’t exactly call him by his title, since he has none…

Things started to look bad for the royals and aristocrats with the onset of the French Revolution of 1789. But the final nail in the coffin came when the Qing Dynasty fell in 1912. Overnight, people with the slightest hint of royalty, regardless of nationality, were shunned upon. All royal blood, with the exception of the French that is… French royalty had a special treatment – public beheading… Ouch!

Save for the British Royal family (and a few less influential monarchs), the world of noblemen and aristocrats vanished overnight. But somehow, the romanticism of being a gentleman lives on…

The Modern Day Gentleman

The modern gentleman isn’t necessarily one of noble birth. He isn’t born into a world of wealth and landownership. He is simply a polished, courteous, well-mannered and cultured man. And in the modern context, being a gentleman isn’t something that you’re born with. It’s something that any man can strive to become. In fact, every man should strive to become one.

Business leader in a corporate world. The modern day gentleman in the modern corporate world
Gentlemen (and ladies) of the modern day corporate world.
Image by Pressfoto from Freepik.

But how does one become a gentleman? What must he do, or tests that he must excel in? Well, the truth is that being a modern day gentleman is more complicated than merely passing a test. There isn’t a list of conditions that he has to adhere to in order to become one. There is, however, a loose set of characteristics that describe what is or isn’t gentlemanly.

So How Does One Become A Gentleman?

The comprehensive list is actually pretty long, but here are a few prominent points for you to ponder.

(1) Always Well Mannered

“Manners Maketh Man”, the very phrase taken straight out of the Kingsman movie franchise. This phrase describes quite accurately the very essence of what being a gentleman all about. Manners are all about how one behaves in any given social environment. Good manners put others in your company at ease. Bad manners, on the other hand, make others uncomfortable, and embarrassed to be around you. Generally, people will avoid an ill-mannered person if at all possible.

Being well mannered is more than merely carrying out polite conversations. It goes beyond knowing what to say and how to say it. Especially so with new acquaintances. Conveying your intention politely puts your counterpart at ease. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a private tête-à-tête between two people, or in a group conversation. And yes, it also includes written correspondences too (letters, emails, text messages, social media posts, etc.). Simply by being polite puts you in the good books of many people.

(2) Well Versed In Etiquette

Etiquette is a set of unwritten rules that govern how one should behave in any given situation. Manners, on the other hand, is essentially making others comfortable with your presence. Any given social event or interaction has its own etiquette. Business etiquette, boardroom etiquette, dinner etiquette, opera/theatre etiquette, and yes, even party etiquette. Every situation has its own little set of unwritten rules, usually established by, or for the benefit of the organiser.

A fancy table setting for a typical western dinner party.
Would you even know which utensils to use once dinner is served? A gentleman makes it a point to learn all the different etiquettes for different social events.
Image by larsen9296 from Pixabay.

If you’re the one throwing a dinner party, you’ll have an expectation on how your guests should behave. But if you’re the guest attending such a party, the reverse is true. It’s on you to know what’s expected of you during the dinner party. And a gentleman always knows the etiquette for each situation.

(3) Chivalry Is Alive And Well

A gentleman believes in the chivalric code, and observes this ancient practice. Simple gestures like standing up when a lady, or somebody superior (military or corporate) enters the room. It can also mean opening a door for your fellow party members when entering or exiting a room. Of course, in this day and age, nobody expects you to remove your jacket to cover a water puddle, so that a fair maiden can exit the horse carriage without getting her shoes wet. Simple (and modern) gestures will suffice. Gestures like walking on the outside of the pavement, so that your wife/partner is protected from the traffic. Pulling the chair for your wife/partner probably doesn’t apply any more today. But you should at least wait until she’s seated before you sit down yourself.

(4) Believes And Practises Punctuality

Being punctual says more about a person than an hour’s worth of self introduction. It shows that you understand and respect others. Time is valuable, and is the only diminishing asset we all share in common. You can give your time to others, but only by taking it away from yourself. Hence, when somebody gives you their time, respect it. They’re literally giving away an asset that can never be recovered. So do the right thing, be respectful of their precious gift to you. Reciprocate that respect.

A gentleman taking a look on his wristwatch in a business meeting.
A gentleman is never tardy. He always respects other people’s time, and expects the same in return.
Image source Pixabay.

A gentleman understands, and respects punctuality. Hence, a gentleman is never tardy. He respects other’s time contribution and limitation, just as much as he expects reciprocity in any engagement, business or social.

(5) Always Well Dressed

Conventional wisdom is that wearing expensive and luxurious clothes makes one well dressed. But being all decked out in the finest fabrics alone doesn’t make one well dressed. A well dressed gentleman can make ordinary looking garments look expensive. Likewise, a sloppy fellow can make expensive bespoke suits look… cheap!…

Being well dressed means paying attention to your overall appearance. It also means being practical too. You don’t wear a three-piece business suit to a garden tea party. That’s just being silly. What it really means, is to understand the situation, and dress accordingly. He doesn’t call unnecessary attention to himself, and never stands out like a sore thumb.

When attending a business meeting, don’t show up in a jeans and t-shirt. Likewise, when attending an outdoor tennis match, don’t show up in gaudy looking Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts. Similarly, when attending a neighbourhood barbecue party, don’t show up in a pair of swim trunks and swim goggles. And lastly, should you be lucky enough to attend a black tie event, please don a proper black tie attire.

(6) Always Well Groomed

Dressing well is only half the battle of projecting a gentlemanly image. The other half is his grooming. A gentleman takes pride and joy in looking well groomed. Nails short and neat, hair clean and tidy, and if he sports facial hair, it’s always trim and neat. And the same care goes for other invisible parts too, like body odour or bad breath. No gentleman goes out smelling like he just came back from a football game without a shower.

(7) Always Understated

A true gentleman never strives to be the most visible person in any social situation. We can always feel his presence, but he never visibly stands out from the crowd. He doesn’t need to seek attention to justify his worth. He knows his worth, and is happy even when others don’t know about it. In fact, his understated presence is usually there to allow his wife/partner to shine.

A gentleman dressed in a conservative dark business suit, standing next to his partner in a bright red gown, walking along the beach.
A gentleman is always dressed conservatively, so as to allow his wife/partner to shine instead.
Image by Studio-Dee from Pixabay.

Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Gentleman?

Whilst the modern world is always fighting for gender equality, it doesn’t mean that you can stop being a gentleman. Giving it your all without expecting anything in return will put you in the good books of many. And the crowd love people like this. As a gentleman, you strive to be in the good books of as many people as possible.

So join Solarex Imaging to usher the return of Chivalry movement into the 21st century. Strive to be more than a man… be a gentleman…

In the meantime, if you enjoyed this article, do consider buying me a coffee at the link below. It’ll help to fuel me to create more articles like this one.

About CHOW Wei Ming

Brand consultant, photographer, creative director, storyteller, and a true believer of the power of visual communications. Outwardly expresses a friendly disposition, but hides a perfectionist nature deep inside him.

10 Replies to “What Makes A Gentleman, Well, A Gentleman?”

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    • You’re most welcome. It’s about time somebody actively advocate the return of the gentleman culture into this modern world. I’m just happy to see that I’m not alone in rising to this challenge.

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