Gone are the days when being the perfect gent meant little more than twirling your waxed moustache every once in a while. But the concept has never disappeared. If you’re planning to elevate your game to modern gentleman status, here are some sharp insider tips from five experts around the world.
Slip on your smoking jacket, pour a great martini and read on.
“I don’t think there’s one rubric for today’s modern gentleman but there are certainly some who stand out,” says Blair Shapera, a Vancouver-based tailor who has dressed dozens of NHL and NBA sports stars plus the great and the good of Canada’s legal profession. “I love Idris Elba for his effortless cool but also appreciate Eddie Redmayne’s polished take on new wave British tailoring.”
But what are the essentials for every modern gentleman’s wardrobe? “He should have a well-fitted suit that makes him feel confident. Whether you go conservative with a classic navy or charcoal power suit or feel best in a bold three-piece with a peak lapel, your closet should have a go-to tailored piece.”
Don’t be shackled to tradition, though. “Today’s well-dressed man can mix high and low fashion – throwing a T-shirt under a tailored blazer for a night out, for example.” And Shapera’s final tip? “Many offices are going tie-free these days. If you’re suited and not wearing a tie, pocket squares are a must: it’s the difference between being dressed and being well-dressed.”
“A gentleman should always have a firm handshake, never struggle for conversation and always dress well – but not too well,” says William Hanson, described by the Financial Times as Britain’s “leading etiquette and Royal protocol expert.” Author of The Bluffer’s Guide to Etiquette, he regards the Duke of Edinburgh and Tom Hiddleston as exemplary modern gentleman.
Prince Philip, he says, fuses grace, dignity and stateliness with a “naughty twinkle.” It’s a humour-laced approach Hiddleston also deploys, alongside his “patrician bearing and mix of contemporary fashion and traditional dress rules.”
But there’s more to being the perfect gent than appearances. “Treat others as you want to be treated,” says Hanson. “Good manners are timeless, classless, ageless and priceless and – hopefully – will always be needed.”
“The secret to great grooming is to start with a visit to a master barber and get tips for your specific skin type,” says Linda Mountford, director of the North American arm of the world’s oldest barbershop company, Truefitt & Hill, whose slogan is Grooming Men For Greatness.
Naming Josh Groban, Richard Gere and Morgan Freeman among her ideal gents, she suggests perfect male grooming has several steps. “Prepare your skin with warm water to open the pores, massage in pre-shave oil to soften the whiskers then use a circular motion to apply shaving cream using a quality badger brush.”
The shave itself
“Always with the grain; never against,” says Mountford, adding the pores should then be closed with cool water and an aftershave balm. And using cologne, she adds, is all about economy – “a little goes a long way.”
A well-curated kit bag is vital, she says, adding that Truefitt & Hill’s pertinent products include pre-shave oil, non-oily aftershave balm and a quality razor suited to your skin type. But great grooming isn’t just about skin care. “Hair products can add a natural look to a clean, well-styled cut. Ensure your cut is long enough to style by keeping it a bit longer on top and shorter on the sides.”
How you interact with alcohol can say much more about your modern gentlemanly credentials than a silver-topped cane. And, Luis Urrea – bar manager of the swanky Cigar Room and Mashrabiya Lounge at the five-star Fairmont The Palm, Dubai – has some tasty tips.
“Single malt whisky is the preferred spirit for many of our Cigar Room guests. And for gentlemen who love classic cocktails, our Old Fashioned achieves the perfect look – especially with a good Cuban cigar,” says Urrea, whose suggested icons include James Bond and David Beckham.
But while he regards a VSOP Boulevardier cocktail – made with Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey and Rémy Martin VSOP Fine Champagne Cognac – as the perfect starter for a night out, a well-stocked home bar is also vital. “Aim for a single malt like Macallan 12 Year Old and some good vermouth. A modern gentleman should also master preparing the perfect gin or vodka martini.”
The bottom line
GQ Australia features editor Jake Millar has updated the idea of the contemporary gent in his new book, The Modern Man Guide: A Cheat's Guide to Being the Ultimate Gentleman.
“It’s not about impressing others or playing a role. It’s about being confident in who you are and becoming the best version of yourself,” says Millar, who points to George Clooney and Ryan Gosling. “Both have poise and style, but they’re also different: there’s no single formula for the perfect gentleman.”
How can potential gents discover their own approach? “Know what suits you, from perfect office attire to the right haircut. Then, learn how to carry conversations, whether at dinner parties or on first dates. Listen more than you speak and avoid topics like politics, religion and ex-partners.”
And it’s not enough to be seen drinking and dining at top spots. “No one likes food snobs but you should at least learn the basics of cuisine so you know your way around a kitchen – and a wine list.”
But the trick, he concludes, is never to take yourself too seriously. “The most important thing about being a perfect gentleman is that it should always be fun – whether you’re giving yourself a wardrobe makeover or mixing a great martini.”
- By John Lee
John is a British-born travel and feature writer. His work has appeared in more than 150 print and online outlets around the world, from the Boston Globe to BBC.com and from the Guardian to Qantas: The Australian Way magazine.