I’ve never subscribed to the view that sartorial style must be associated with particular interests or pursuits. I don’t like cocktails. I hate swanky bars. I have no interest in jewellery, dogs, etiquette or classic cars. Polo, horse racing: neither have ever held much attraction.
This probably permanently excludes me from being a dandy, certainly a rake. But then, descriptions of these men always seem to omit two things fundamental to my enjoyment of life: family and sport.
This is, as per usual, a wandering introduction to my main point: that there are certain characteristics commonly ascribed to a gentleman that I do like, and deserve greater attention. They tend to be more personal, rather than public pleasures. They probably less prone to pre tense. My favourites are:
– Writing. Having nice notepaper, not decorated, not bearing the announcement ‘From the desk of Mr X’, but nice well-made paper, and writing notes to people. When you’ve visited a wonderful craftsman. When people have taken you into their home, or otherwise shown hospitality. Such a note displays rare consideration, expresses genuine and thoughtful thanks.
– Washing. More formal clothing forces you to slowdown in certain ways – to put in your cufflinks, to brush your shoes and put them away at the end of the day. Washing your hands and face slowly and thoroughly is an extension of that: taking the time to take care of yourself. It is a far more selfish pleasure than writing, but no less worth the effort. Take time to shave. Wash in warm water, dry and apply a touch of moisturiser, adjust your tie and leave the bathroom feeling refreshed. If you work in an office all day, it’s as good a pick-me-up as a shot of espresso.
– Politeness. I think I’ve always been polite. They taught you to hold the door open for others when I was at school. But I appreciate it more the older I get. It is gentleness that makes a gentleman. It is, for me, a natural extension of the careful consideration you now give to what you wear and what you surround yourself with. It is personal; it is not etiquette. Etiquette is public.
– Craft. That last point leads naturally onto the way in which you consume other things in your life. Having found out so much about how my shoes and my jacket are made, I want to know at least a little about how my table is made. Not because I want to start collecting antiques, but because I want to know where the value resides. All those quotes from gentlemen about surrounding themselves with the very best? They didn’t mean just the most expensive. And the best is very personal – it might mean old, worn and inherited.
– Subtlety. I like that a man’s largest piece of jewellery, his watch, is actually hidden most of the time. Or should be. That principal of subtlety can be extended to many other areas of life.
The pleasures of a gentleman.
Image: detail from Timothy Everest bespoke velvet jacket