How to Be a Gentleman
“Gentleman” is a word we throw around a lot here at AOS.
But what does it mean?
In past generations (before e-commerce) a tailor wasn’t just a clothesmaker, anymore than a barber was just a haircutter. These professionals in matters of appearance were also trusted sources in matters of comportment. A good tailor encourages an open dialogue about what it means to be a man; social skills, family, etiquette, dating, professionalism, work/life balance, etc, etc.
Today, in a world of smartphone addicts and digital social lives, I find that when guys step out into the real world they are often confused as to which “rules” to follow. We don't have those trusted male advisors in our lives anymore. So much of the fashion/style advice has gone digital with the growth of the "blogger/influencer", but the real important stuff - the conversations about what it means to "be a man" - have been all but lost.
I hope to use this platform to fill that void and to have conversations about #MoreThanMenswear.
As always, these are simply my opinions based on my personal experiences and observations. I can’t say that I’m a perfect gentleman or that I follow all of these rules all the time. Being a gentleman, like being a decent human being, takes discipline, awareness and consistent effort.
With that said, here are some ways to think about your greater impact on the world.
A gentlemen revels in responsibility and commitment. Years ago, I heard a quote about being a man that I will never forget. It goes; "the heavier the load, the more satisfying the carry." It seems current culture encourages young men to avoid responsibility; rent don’t own, date don’t marry, buy disposable items...there are countless examples. The problem is, not being connecting to long-term commitments is the easiest way to feel lost. And from my point of view, the average guy is more lost than ever.
A gentleman is aware of his attention. I used to think that time was the most valuable commodity in the world. But, contrary to the famous saying, you can buy time. Paying someone to run an errand for you is an example of buying time for yourself. You can’t, however, buy people’s attention. By living in the moment (putting your phone down and looking people in the eye), therefore, you are offering others the most valuable thing you own.
Put. The. Phone. Down. Never in the bedroom. Never at the breakfast/lunch/dinner table. Never when people are talking to you... And if you can’t spend time alone without your phone, you have a problem that is going to bubble up and hit you hard one day. Make a point to create some space and eventually you will feel more clarity in your thinking.
True friends are the ones who expect nothing. I can go months without seeing my closest friends, but when we get together, it’s like we were just hanging out last night. Real friends don’t guilt you for not spending time with them, or including them in things. With that said, there are times when people in your life need support. Understanding when you need to be present and when you need to contribute is critical to lifelong relationships. In my opinion, friendships, like fashions, are best when you focus on quality over quantity. I don’t need a hundred passive friends who know my birthday. I need a handful of close friends who know my intimate goals, fears, struggles, etc.
A gentleman doesn’t brag. Something I was taught at an young age: the more somebody talks about what they've done, the less likely they are to actually have done it. Conversely, those who’ve really been there and lived it usually have little desire to boast about it. Bragging, even “humble bragging”, is a sign of weakness, inexperience and insecurity. If you’re thinking about giving yourself a compliment - stop - and give one to someone else.
A gentleman spreads love. This may seem overly simple, but a compliment can go a very LONG WAY. It can literally turn someone’s day around, and it has a ripple effect that can affect the other people around that person. The best part is, it's absolutely free and takes almost no effort. It’s one of the easiest ways to brighten the world, and the effects can begin to compound instantaneously.
A gentleman never talks politics in passing. He only talks politics in a setting that is comfortable, and when he has time to go in deep. Political opinions are intimately intertwined with a person’s individual experiences, values, morals, etc. If you're engaging in a political conversation, try to listen 70% of the time and talk 30% of the time. Remember that you are not right, and your goal is simply to understand the others person’s perspective - not convince them to share yours. It's impossible to separate your personal opinions from your unique perspective and life experience.
A gentleman makes a point to travel throughout his life. The more you see and experience, the more you grow. If you’ve spent the majority of your life in the same place, I urge you to seek re-location as soon as possible. Spending a weekend in a resort in Mexico doesn't count. If you have a chance to study abroad, relocate our job, go away to college, etc. DO IT! Go somewhere as different as possible than what you are used to. This is the fastest way to grow and not only learn about other people and cultures, but learn about yourself. If you can't afford to travel, try to make a friend who is different than you - different skin tone, different religion, different industry, etc. Growing up in Canada I had the blessing of a very diverse friend group which has shaped me, more than anything, into the man I am today.
A gentleman uses social media as a tool, and doesn't allow it to be a crutch. Think for a second about what is in your feed - what messages you are consistently and constantly implanting in your brain. It can be a great tool (I love reading motivational or historical passages on Instagram) or it can be a black hole of comparing yourself to others and feeling bad about yourself. Use it wisely to re-enforce the mindset you need to reach your goals.
A gentleman understands occasion (it’s not about wearing 3-piece suits every day), and what casual clothes actually are. Gym clothes are not casual clothes. Loafers and oxford shirts are not dress clothes... But more on all this later.
A gentleman doesn’t complain. Nobody cares how tired you are - take a nap. Or how hungry you are - have a snack. Or how hard you've been working - pat yourself on the back. Turn your complaints into compliments and you will see a very real change in your life.
A gentleman looks people in the eye when he talks with them. This is a form of compliment, to give someone your most valuable asset; your dedicated attention.
I find that people generally want to be honest, until they feel uncomfortable to do so. It's not your job to sugar-coat things for other people, especially when it's how you actually feel. You’re always better being honest and finding a delicate way to tell people how you genuinely feel. I see all these little “white lies” all the time for no reason. An example is when a homeless person asks for change...so many people get awkward and say a lie, like “sorry I don’t have any”. There’s nothing wrong with being honest here - saying something like “sorry not today - but good luck”. I have change, I’m just deciding to keep it for myself. I don’t have to lie to anybody about whether or not I have 50 cents.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE LESS FORTUNATE
A gentleman acknowledges the struggles of other people. Homeless people are exactly that, people. They are human beings. The least you can do is acknowledge that they exist and are, indeed, visible. Here's an easy way to help; next time you’re about to leave uneaten food on the table at a restaurant take it to-go and drop it to the first homeless person you see. If we all did this regularly there would be less waste, less begging and more positive energy all around. Think about other ways you can donate your excesses - this is an example of taking responsibility.
A gentleman is clean. He gets his haircut regularly (I recommend once per month, but this depends on your hair style). Brush your teeth. Take a shower. Wear deodorant. Keep your nails clipped and clean. Keep your beard trimmed (the out-of-control beard thing is played). Being clean is a sign of respect for yourself and for others. After all, “cleanliness is close to godliness”.
A gentleman understands the power of his almighty dollar. Every time you spend a dollar, think about who/what you are supporting. Whenever you buy something you are supporting the people, concepts and messages being the brand. There is a major difference, for example, between buying lunch at McDonalds versus buying lunch at the local farmers market. This, of course, also applies to the pitfalls of the Fast Fashion industry - but I will be digging into that plenty more later.
When you bring someone new to a party, or a gathering of friends, it’s your job to introduce them and make everyone feel comfortable. Start with the host of the gathering, as he/she is now welcoming strangers into his/her home on your behalf. Before you start a round of introductions, it’s also a good idea to ask your new friend how they would like to be introduced.
THE LOST ART OF THE PHONE CALL
In a world dominated by texting and digital messages, the good ‘ol fashioned phone call was never had a greater personal impact. Want to show someone you care about them? Use your phone to actually make a phone call. There is an intimateness and a subtleness to a live conversion that can’t be replicated by passively typing. Want to take it to the next level? Send a hand-written note - these have basically become collectibles.
PAYING FOR A DATE
If you invited him/her, you should pick up the tab. It comes with the invitation. You don’t invite someone to spend their own money. If you’re broke, do something cheap like a coffee date or something free like a walk in the park.
One good squeeze and one good “shake” (up-and-down), with eye contact, is all you need. Don’t linger. I prefer to offer my hand out, lower than the other person’s hand, palm facing upward. Think of it as a suggestion or offering that the other person can choose to accept. I find it strong-handed when someone puts out their hand higher and downward facing, as if to make a suggestion that your participation is not voluntary, but demanded. You shouldn’t be in a position to be “kept hanging”, because you shouldn’t be “up top” in the first place, unless it’s someone you know well. Down low is less intrusive and more inviting.
When your glass clinks together with another person, you should make eye-contact with them. A cheers is meaningless without a personal moment of connection to go along with it.
I have one friend in particular who gives fantastic goodbyes. He lost a friend once and didn’t get to properly say farewell, so now he makes a point of making eye-contact, saying how thankful he was for sharing great company, and closing with something like “I wish you well until we get to meet again”. I always think about his goodbye later that night and it makes me appreciate his company and the rare times we get to spend together.
Take her/him somewhere non-threatening and non-committal. A coffee or a drink is very easy to put down and walk away if a personal connection is not being made. A fancy dinner or a lengthy show on a first date can feel trapping and put unnecessary pressure on both parties to see it through. Dress well (but not too formal), have a drink to take the edge off, try to stay relaxed, ask about her/him, and try your best to remain humble when answering about yourself. The 70/30 rule (listen 70% of the time, talk 30% of the time) also applies very well here.
The comments you make online, or on social media, are real comments. Increasingly these comments can be traced back to you, and once you put that energy out there, it’s out there forever. A basic rule of decency here is don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say directly to a person’s face. Because one day, inevitably, you will meet face to face and have to stand behind your online comments. When the grass is cut the snakes will show, and the grass is getting shorter and shorter all the time.
THE MEANING OF LIFE
A gentleman strives to do better. When I think about life itself, I am reminded of how it is incredibly resilient and always evolving. For evolution to work within us on a macro scale, there has to be an undeniable force ceaselessly seeking improvement within us on a micro scale. In other words, it's in our DNA to learn from our experiences and move into the future in a way that is better than we were in the past. This, in my opinion, very simply tells us the "meaning of life". It is to evolve, to self-learn, to adapt, to leave the world a better place than it was when we arrived, and to ultimately help as many people as possible to do the same with their lives.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Yours in style,