My aspiration to be a gentleman is something that as a 20 year old student, I often have a good deal of difficulty in getting comfortable in my mind. I live in a thoroughly modern age, attending a modern university where the student population is interested in modern fashion, music, culture and entertainments and I sometimes feel that in a world where such modern attitudes abound, the cultural values surrounding gentlemanliness are perceived of as more and more outdated and defunct. Feminist students glare at me and accuse me of patronising them when I hold the door open, no one is interested in polite conversation when I’m out ‘on the town’ so to speak and I find increasingly that those events which require a modicum of formality or social etiquette at university are few and far between.
Despite being influenced heavily by the classical concepts of gentlemanliness and old school elegance (and even being schooled in them to an extent, having received years of elocution and finishing training from a young age) it has become quickly apparent to me as I’ve grown up, that the classical world of the gentleman has vanished, and that those of us who would still like to be thought of as gentleman, must adapt what it means to be a gentleman accordingly.
This ‘modernisation’ of gentlemanliness is something that I’ve enjoyed being able to embrace at university, and in fact being able to develop my own sense of style and personal identity over the past two years at Uni, has been what’s allowed me to grow into the ‘gentleman’ that I’ve always wanted to be. I’m passionate about tailoring and wear tailored clothes a lot, I smoke a pipe when the mood takes me and I like nothing better than relaxing with a whiskey and some Jazz music after a day’s revision. However, I also wear jeans, listen to hip-hop and thoroughly enjoy clubbing with my fellow students. Depending upon your definition then, I may or may not be a gentleman?
I have had to come to terms with this for myself and build an identity at university which is true to myself, but also socially welcomed in our modern society, as opposed to being shunned as eccentric or antiquarian. To do this, I’ve had to think about which aspects of gentlemanliness transfer well into modern student life, and which less so. First and foremost, I have always tried to abide by what my family have taught me is the core, underlying value of a gentleman – I consciously make the effort to think of others – I try to show consideration.
Consideration for me, is not only the at the heart of what it is to be a gentleman, but it’s also something with timeless appeal. The iconic gentleman of yesteryear, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Sean Connery and so forth – their charm emanates not from the way that they adhere to basic social etiquette – the automatic process of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Rather, they are famed for exuding a gentlemanly elegance borne of their consideration for those around them. I feel that gentleman today should embody that same consideration, if someone likes it when you hold open the door, that’s great. If not, then just take the time to let them pass through first – that is showing gentlemanly consideration.
The other way I channel gentlemanliness to make it both more widely accepted and enjoyed by the people around me is to dress like a gentleman – I have a passion for sartorial fashion. This influenced my interest in gentlemen just as much as my parents drumming the concept of ‘consideration for others’ into me as a boy. At thirteen years of age, my parents introduced me to the music (and more importantly recordings of live performances) of the Rat Pack. Such style, such verve and such elegance I had never seen before and it had me hooked by the end of the first recording. Emulating the way they dress, not only makes me feel like I’m caring for myself and my own appearance, but it also makes me feel comfortable in my own skin, like I’m dressing in a way that allows me to express myself as a gentleman.
Perhaps that’s the brilliance of the true appeal of the gentleman. For all of the gentlemanly pursuits and characteristics which modern society ensures are becoming less and less socially valued and acceptable, ultimately, the core values of gentlemanliness make for a personal and timeless philosophy. Gentleman will always exist, both young and old, despite the common conception that they’re becoming ever rarer in our modern age.